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Bebop

October 24, 2019

Sonny Sitt — Lone Wolf Alternate

Sonny Sitt

IT’S WIDELY RECOGNIZED that in the 1940s, Charlie Parker revolutionized both jazz and popular music with his lighting fast, ultra-precise style of playing that came to be known as “Be-Bop.” Not as widely known is that a fellow alto saxophonist was expanding the jazz saxophone vocabulary in a similar fashion without either one of these two masters knowing it.

Edward Hammond Boatner, Jr was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1924 to a musical family. Given up for adoption at a very early age, he took his new family’s name of Stitt, and when in high school, got the nickname of “Sonny” ­— becoming known as Sonny Stitt for the rest of his life.

By the 1940s, Stitt was a professional alto saxophonist when he chanced to meet Charlie Parker. Upon hearing the younger player, Parker is said to have commented “I’ll be damned, you sound just like me,” to which Stitt replied: “I thought you sounded just like me.” A fast friendship followed, with Stitt often filling on for Parker on live dates as well as recordings when Parker was unavailable.

By the 1950s, Stitt became the chief proponent of the Parker style. A seemingly endless series of recordings ensued for a variety of labels including Savoy, Prestige, Roulette and Roost. Typical of the period, these labels would hire the leader of the session and fill out the band with whomever was handy. As a result, Stitt (among others) would hop from label to label, making many recordings with as many different musicians. So much so that Stitt himself never really had his own band and came to be called the “Lone Wolf” of jazz. This independence would continue throughout his career on the many labels he recorded for until his own passing in 1982.

This was the case with Stitt’s time with the Roost label. Roost itself would last only a few years in the 1950s before being bought up by the larger independent Roulette imprint. As often happens in these situations, alternate versions of many or all of the tunes on released albums have sat in vaults, just waiting to be re-discovered.

Sonny Stitt playing alto sax in New York, 1976. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Marcello Webster, New York, USA

Sonny Stitt playing alto sax in New York, 1976. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tom Marcello Webster, New York, USA

From these long-forgotten sessions comes Sonny Stitt – Lone Wolf: The Roost Alternates (Run Out Groove – ROGV-037), featuring a strong cast of supporting players, including Hank Jones (piano), Wendell Marshall (bass) Freddie Green (guitar) and Shadow Wilson (drums); all playing on a set heavy on standards with a few original compositions to round out the program. All tracks are previously unreleased alternate takes, predominantly from the sessions that produced the albums Sonny Stitt PlaysSonny Stitt with the New Yorkers and Sonny Stitt Plays Arrangements From The Pen Of Quincy Jones.

The LP presents alternate takes of four Stitt originals. “Symphony Hall Swing” bounces along with an early 1950s beat, while “Blues for Yard” and “Engos, The Bloos” both could have easily been recorded by Charlie Parker. “Sonnys’ Bunny” gets a big band arrangement with a large group playing Quincy Jones’ arrangement over Stitt’s Parker-influenced alto.

The remaining eight tracks constitute a program of standards including (among others) “The Nearness of You,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Harlem Nocturne” and “It Might As Well Be Spring,” which features the excellent Hank Jones on piano.

By the later 1950s, Stitt would tire of the comparisons to Charlie Parker and switch to tenor saxophone — distancing himself from his earlier similarity to the Bop pioneer. He would occasionally return to his alto sax roots, notably for his classic album Sonny Stitt Plays Bird in which he revisits classics from his late friend’s standard repertoire.

By the later 1960s, Sonny Stitt would basically abandon his modern jazz style and embark on a long series of commercial soul-jazz albums which, while very popular in their time, served to end his reputation as a hard-driving modernist. It would be literally a decade before he would reclaim his rightful place among the great saxophonists of modern jazz with such later albums as The ChampTune Up and (appropriately) Sonny’s Back. It’s nice to see these early Roost tracks back as well.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at mrbluenote@peoplepc.com






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