Sonny Stitt Biography

Edward Boatner Stitt, 2 February 1924, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, d. 22 July 1982, Washington, DC, USA. Starting out on alto saxophone, Stitt gained his early experience playing in the big bands led by Tiny Bradshaw and Billy Eckstine. Influenced by Charlie Parker and by the many fine young beboppers he encountered on the Eckstine band, Stitt quickly developed into a formidable player. He played with Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and others but by the late 40s was concerned that he should develop a more personal style. In pursuit of this he switched to tenor saxophone and formed the first of many bands he was to lead and co-lead over the years. Among his early collaborators was Gene Ammons, whom he had met during the Eckstine stint.

In the late 50s Stitt was with Jazz At The Philharmonic and in 1960 was briefly with Miles Davis. Throughout the 60s and 70s Stitt maintained a high level of performances at home and abroad, despite periodic bouts of ill health generated by his drug addictions. In the early 60s he recorded with Paul Gonsalves, Salt And Pepper, and in the early 70s toured with Gillespie as a member of the Giants Of Jazz, continuing to make many fine record albums. His early 80s albums included Sonny, Sweets And Jaws (1981), with Harry Edison and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, and a fine set made just weeks before his death.

Although his early career was overshadowed by Parker, Stitt was never a copyist. Indeed, his was a highly original musical mind, as became apparent after he switched to tenor and forged a new and appreciative audience for his work. In later years he played alto saxophone as often as he played tenor, by which time it was plain to see that the comparisons to Parker were largely the result of critical pigeonholing.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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