Sonny Stitt

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Sonny Stitt
Background information
Birth nameEdward Hammond Boatner Jr.
BornFebruary 2, 1924
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJuly 22, 1982(1982-07-22) (aged 58)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Years active1943–1982
LabelsPrestige, Roost, Savoy, Verve, Argo, Impulse!, Atlantic, Roulette, Cadet, Muse, Flying Dutchman, Sonet, Who's Who in Jazz

Sonny Stitt (born Edward Hammond Boatner Jr.; February 2, 1924 – July 22, 1982) was an American jazz saxophonist of the bebop/hard bop idiom. Known for his warm tone, he was one of the best-documented saxophonists of his generation, recording more than 100 albums. He was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern because of his tendency to rarely work with the same musicians for long despite his relentless touring and devotion to the craft. Stitt was sometimes viewed as a Charlie Parker mimic, especially earlier in his career, but gradually came to develop his own sound and style, particularly when performing on tenor saxophone and even occasionally baritone saxophone.

Early life[edit]

Edward Hammond Boatner Jr. was born in Boston, Massachusetts,[1] and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. He had a musical background: his father, Edward Boatner, was a baritone singer, composer, and college music professor; his brother was a classically trained pianist, and his mother was a piano teacher.[1] He was placed for adoption in 1924 by his father and adopted by the Stitt family in Saginaw.[2] He later began calling himself "Sonny". While in high school in Saginaw, he played in the Len Francke Band, a local popular swing band.

In 1943, Stitt met Charlie Parker. As he often recalled, the two men had similar styles. Parker is alleged to have remarked, "Well, I'll be damned, you sound just like me", to which Stitt responded, "Well, I can't help the way I sound. It's the only way I know how to play."[3] Kenny Clarke said of Stitt, "Even if there had not been a Bird, there would have been a Sonny Stitt."[4]

During the 1940s, he played alto saxophone as a member of Tiny Bradshaw's big band, Billy Eckstine's big band with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie's big band.[5] Stitt was a leader of Bebop Boys and Galaxy in 1946 and 1948 respectively.[6]

When playing tenor saxophone Stitt seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was imitating Parker's style, and began to develop a far more distinctive sound.[1] He played with other bop musicians including Horace Parlan,[7] Bud Powell and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, a fellow tenor with a distinctly tough tone in comparison to Stitt, in the 1950s and recorded a number of sides for Prestige Records as well as albums for Argo, Verve, and Roost. Stitt experimented with Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1950s, and the results can be heard on his recordings for Roost and Verve, on which he teamed up with Thad Jones and Chick Corea[8] for Latin versions of such standards as "Autumn Leaves".

In 1952 Stitt played with pianist Jimmy Jones and the next year performed orchestral music with Johnny Richards. Under Quincy Jones's guidance in 1955 he played uptempos and ballads such as "My Funny Valentine" and "Star Dust" and the same year performed "Afterwards" and "There Will Never Be Another You" with Hank Jones. Stitt joined Dolo Coker in 1957 to perform "Blues for Yard" and "Blue Moon" before returning to Hank to perform "Cherokee".[3]

Stitt joined Miles Davis briefly in 1960, and recordings with Davis' quintet can be found only in live settings on the tour of 1960.[9] Concerts in Manchester and Paris are available commercially and also a number of concerts (which include sets by the earlier quintet with John Coltrane) on the record Live at Stockholm (Dragon), all of which featured Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers. However, Miles fired Stitt due to the excessive drinking habit he had developed, and replaced him with Hank Mobley.[10] Later in the 1960s, Stitt paid homage to Parker on the album Stitt Plays Bird, which features Jim Hall on guitar.[11]

Stitt recorded several times with his friend Gene Ammons in sessions that were interrupted by Ammons' own imprisonment for narcotics possession. The records recorded by these two saxophonists are regarded by many as some of both Ammons and Stitt's best work. The Ammons/Stitt partnership went down in posterity as one of the best dueling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Stitt ventured into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in 1964 on the Soul People album. Stitt also recorded with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves in 1963 for Impulse! on the Salt and Pepper album in 1964. Around that time he appeared regularly at Ronnie Scott's in London, a live 1964 encounter with Ronnie Scott, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, eventually surfaced, and another in 1966 with resident guitarist Ernest Ranglin and British tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. Stitt was one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with the Selmer Varitone amplification system as heard on the albums What's New!!! in 1966 and Parallel-a-Stitt in 1967.[12]

Later life[edit]

Sonny Stitt in 1971

In the 1970s Stitt slowed his recording output slightly but in 1972 produced another classic, Tune-Up!, which was and still is regarded by many jazz critics, such as Scott Yanow, as his definitive record. Indeed, his fiery and ebullient soloing was reminiscent of his earlier playing. In 1971 he managed to record four albums; Turn It On! with Leon Spencer, Melvin Sparks, Idris Muhammad, and Virgil Jones, You Talk That Talk! with Gene Ammons and George Freeman as new members of the group, Just the Way It Was (Live at the Left Bank) with Don Patterson and Billy James, and Black Vibrations which featured the same group as in Turn It On!.[12] Just the Way It Was (Live at the Left Bank) which was released in 2000 also featured Stitt as an electric saxophone player, which was the first album which encompassed it.[13]

Stitt's productivity dropped in the 1970s due to alcoholism. He drank heavily after giving up heroin in the late fifties and the abuse was beginning to take its toll. A series of alcohol-induced seizures caused Stitt to abstain and quit for good.[14]

Stitt joined the all-star group The Giants of Jazz (which also featured Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding and bassist Al McKibbon) and made albums for Atlantic, Concord and EmArcy. His last recordings were made in Japan. A rejuvenated Stitt also toured with Red Holloway in the late 1970s, who noted a marked improvement in his playing.[1] In 1975 he performed with Ron Burton, Major Holley and drummer John Lewis at the Village Vanguard.[15]

In 1981, Stitt performed with George Duvivier and Jimmy Cobb, Six weeks before his death, Stitt recorded two consecutive sessions which were with George Duvivier, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Hardman and either Junior Mance or Walter Davis Jr. on piano.[6]

In 1982, Stitt was diagnosed with cancer, and died on July 22 in Washington, D.C.[1] He is buried in a wall crypt at Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Brentwood, Maryland.


As leader/co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Gene Ammons

With Art Blakey

With Miles Davis

  • Miles Davis in Stockholm 1960 Complete with John Coltrane and Sonny Stitt (Dragon, 1992)

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Milt Jackson

With Don Patterson

With Oscar Peterson

With Zimbo Trio

  • Zimbo Convida Sonny Stitt (Clam, 1979)


  1. ^ a b c d e Wilson, John S. (July 24, 1982). "Sonny Stitt, Saxophonist, Is Dead; Style Likened to Charlie Parker's". The New York Times. p. 001028.
  2. ^ Friedwald, Will (August 14, 2006). "Bebop's Greatest Sparring Partner". The New York Sun. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Marc Myers (March 29, 2010). "Sonny Stitt: Roost Sessions". JazzWax. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Ron Scott (May 26, 2017). "Boss tenors, 'ReOcurring Dreams,' Regina salutes Ella". New York Amsterdam News. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  5. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Sonny Stitt". AllMusic. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Yanow, Scott (2000). Bebop. Miller Freeman Books. p. 96-. ISBN 0-87930-608-4.
  7. ^ Matt Schudel (February 25, 2017). "Horace Parlan, jazz pianist who overcame disability, dies at 86". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  8. ^ "Chick Corea's Detroit connections will shine at Detroit Jazz Festival". Detroit Free Press. August 26, 2018. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Samuel Chell (April 9, 2004). "Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt: Jazz Time: Olympia". All About Jazz. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  10. ^ "Edward "Sonny" Stitt". WNCU. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  11. ^ Marc Myers (March 12, 2008). "Top 10: Charlie Parker Tribute Albums". JazzWax. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Marc Myers (December 20, 2011). "Sonny Stitt: Varitone Redux". JazzWax. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  13. ^ "Sonny Stitt: Just The Way It Was - "Live" At The Left Bank". All About Jazz. October 1, 2000. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Perkins, Bob (September 1, 2016). "Bob Perkins' Jazz Library: The Story of Sonny Stitt". WRTI. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  15. ^ Wilson, John S. (August 30, 1975). "Sonny Stitt, Loner, Plays at Vanguard". The New York Times. p. 14.
  16. ^ a b c "WinGate". Retrieved October 28, 2019.

External links[edit]