Monday, July 6, 2015

Sonny Stitt - A JazzProfiles Snapshot

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"I'm no new Bird, man!...Nobody's Bird. Bird died."

So Sonny Stitt, without a doubt one of the finest jazz saxophonists, told writer Dave Bittan in a 1959 Down Beat feature, responding to a remark about how his music was so much like Charlie Parker's.
- Zan Stewart, insert notes to The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Studios Sessions [Mosaic Records MD9-208]

One of the most recorded musicians of all time—as a leader, not a sideman—Sonny Stitt sometimes seemed indifferent to the music he was playing. Not that he was likely to disappoint his audience, who, he knew, couldn't detect for the most part when he was on and when he was coasting; after all, he could coast with head-spinning virtuosity. But there was a touch of cynicism. A record session, finally, was just another gig — a fast taste, no royalties. The blues, "I Got Rhythm," a couple of standards. Still, he countered that cynicism with the conviction, shared by numberless jazz musicians about their own work, that the knowing audience, however small, would recognize the diamonds, would distinguish what was great from what was merely professional. …
His best work, those diamonds, will live as long as anything in Jazz.”
- Gary Giddins, Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation

“Today it takes something out of the ordinary to inspire Stitt to his full powers.”
- Ira Gitler, Jazz author and critic [writing in 1966]

Writing in Sonny Stitt: Endgame Brilliance - Tune-Up! - Constellation [32jazz 32009] producer Joel Dorn commented:

Tune-Up! and Constellation are among the best records Sonny Stitt ever made and, without question, are the two finest examples of his late period work. Aside from their inherent musical brilliance, they go a long way to show just why Stitt was so respected by his peers and revered as one of the giants of modern jazz. Both records were originally released on the now defunct Muse label. Even though Constellation was nominated for a Grammy, and Tune-Up! was as critically acclaimed, both records have been relatively hard to find. Now they're both on one disk.

This is the first "two-far" on 32 Jazz. Our goal is to give you as much attractively-packaged, great music for the dollar as is humanly possible. I hope you enjoy our initial offering 'cause we got nothing but great music coming your way.”

Gary Giddins, another close and astute observer of the Jazz scene heartily agreed with Joel when he wrote:

“... 10 years ago [1972], in the midst of a relentless and largely undistinguished recording regimen including tenor-organ dates and a brief flirtation with electronic sax, Stitt made a superb album called Tune Up! for Cobblestone. There isn't a rote note on it. One reason for its success was producer Don Schlitten, who has a magical touch with bop saxophonists, and another was pianist Barry Harris, a catalyst for some of Stitt's best playing since 1957 (their 1961 "Koko" for Cadet is one of Stitt's masterpieces). Heady with success, the three returned to the studio four months later to cut Constellation, which is measure for measure probably the best LP Stitt ever made. When it tied McCoy Tyner's Sahara for first place in the Down Beat critics' poll, some colleagues were dismayed that what appeared on the surface to be an ordinary six-hour quartet date, leader plus pick-up rhythm, should win the prize from more fashionable doings. But I continue to think it was one of Down Beat's more privileged moments, recognizing a veteran player's reclaimed inspiration.” [Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation, p. 109].

In closing his insert notes to the original 1972 Muse recording of Tune Up! [MR 5334, the Jazz author and critic said:

“Here endeth Tune-Up! a watershed in Stittology. This is the conclusive proof, if anybody still needs it, that when the spirit moves him, and the company is right, Sonny Stitt is one of the greatest soloists in jazz.”

And Howard Mandel began his insert notes to the 1972 Muse recording of Constellation [MR 5323]by observing:

“When a distant sun dies in our sky, it takes light-years — a measure of space by time — for us to perceive it, and until we do we still see the bright pin point as alive. Thanks to the perspective afforded by recordings, which can telescope jazz history so that eons of music fit on a few feet of shelves, the light of Edward "Sonny" Stitt still burns. Some of his brightest moments are caught and held for all time on the albums he recorded for Muse during the last decade of his life. The reissue of Constellation, originally released on Cobblestone, reminds us of the brilliance Stitt gave off during the final era of his fiery career.”

Experienced and skilled Jazz musicians like Edward “Sonny” Stitt could and did “mail it in” on any number of occasions, after all, it’s difficult to play this music night-after-night at a high level of creative ability.

But when Sonny decided to “deliver the mail” himself, it was always worth opening as it was sure to be a special delivery.

Sonny performs Tadd Dameron’s Casbah from the Constellation LP on the following video with Barry Harris, piano, Sam Jones, bass and Roy Brooks, drums.

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