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Sonny Stitt

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Biography

Charlie Parker has had many admirers and his influence can be detected in numerous styles, but few have been as avid a disciple as Sonny Sitt. There was almost note-for-note imitation in several early Stitt solos, and the closeness remained until Stitt began de-emphasizing the alto in favor of the tenor, on which he artfully combined the influences of Parker and Lester Young. Stitt gradually developed his own sound and style, though he was never far from Parker on any alto solo. A wonderful blues and ballad player whose approach influenced John Coltrane, Stitt could rip through an up-tempo bebop stanza, then turn around and play a shivering, captivating ballad. He was an alto saxophonist in Tiny Bradshaw's band during the early '40s, then joined Billy Eckstine's seminal big band in 1945, playing alongside other emerging bebop stars like Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Stitt later played in Dizzy Gillespie's big band and sextet. He began on tenor and baritone in 1949, and at times was in a two-tenor unit with Ammons. He recorded with Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson for Prestige in 1949, then did several albums on Prestige, Argo, and Verve in the '50s and '60s. Stitt led many combos in the '50s, and re-joined Gillespie for a short period in the late '50s. After a brief stint with Miles Davis in 1960, he reunited with Ammons and for a while was in a three-tenor lineup with James Moody. During the '60s, Stitt also recorded for Atlantic, cutting the transcendent Stitt Plays Bird, which finally addressed the Parker question in epic fashion. He continued heading bands, though he joined the Giants of Jazz in the early '70s. This group included Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kai Winding, Thelonious Monk, and Al McKibbon. Stitt did more sessions in the '70s for Cobblestone, Muse, and others, among them another definitive date, Tune Up. He continued playing and recording in the early '80s, recording for Muse, Sonet, and Who's Who in Jazz. He suffered a heart attack and died in 1982.

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