Stitt, Sonny (Edward)

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Stitt, Sonny (Edward)

Stitt, Sonny (Edward), jazz alto and tenor saxophonist; b. Boston, Mass., Feb. 2, 1924; d. Washington, D.C., July 22, 1982. Sonny Stitt is often pegged as Charlie Parker’s most avid disciple, but he had reached many of the same harmonic and rhythmic insights in the early 1940s independent of Bird. A blazing alto saxophonist with an archetypical bebop sound, Stitt was also a highly charged tenor player, though his approach was strongly influenced by Lester Young. He was capable of breathtaking ballad work on either horn. He landed his first major gig as an alto saxophonist with Tiny Bradshaw in the early 1940s and hooked up briefly with Billy Eckstine’s seminal bop big band, playing alongside Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Soon after he moved to New York he worked with Dizzy Gillespie (1945–46) and recorded with Kenny Clarke. Drug problems kept him off the scene for a number of years and when he returned he was playing tenor as a way to distinguish himself from Parker. He co-led one of the first great tenor duel bands with Ammons (1950–52) and began leading his own combos. After Parker’s death in 1955 he began playing alto again, touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1950s, and with Miles Davis in 1960–61. He toured with The Giants of Jazz in 1971–72, a band featuring Gillespie, Monk, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon, and Art Blakey. Though Stitt was a very prolific and consistent musician, rarely turning in a poor performance in his 100 or so albums as a leader, he was often at his best when jousting with other saxophonists or in similar competitive situations.


Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell/J, J. Johnson (1949); Prestige First Sessions, Vol. 2 (1951); At the Hi-Hat (1954); Only the Blues (1957); Sonny Side Up (1958); Stitt Meets Brother Jack (1962); Low Flame (1962); Night Letter (1963); Soul People (1964); Tune-Up (1972); 12! (1972); Just in Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was (1981); The Last Sessions, Vols. 1 & 2 (1982); Stitt Plays Bird (1988); Kaleidoscope (1992); The Good Life (1994); Verve Jazz Masters 50 (1995).

—Andrew Gilbert