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Dueling Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons

Celebrating the birthday of Sonny Stitt, an iconic figure in the world of jazz saxophone, we delve into the life and legacy of a musician whose virtuosic skill and relentless improvisation placed him among the jazz greats. Born Edward Hammond Boatner Jr. on February 2, 1924, Stitt’s contributions to the bebop and hard bop genres have cemented his place in jazz history.

Sonny Stitt was known for his masterful command of both the alto and tenor saxophones, a rarity that allowed him to express a broad musical vocabulary. His style, while often compared to Charlie Parker’s, bore its unique signature—marked by a crisp tone, vigorous attack, and an inventive approach to improvisation. This distinction made Stitt a formidable figure in the jazz scene, ensuring his work remained relevant to enthusiasts and fellow musicians.

One of the most celebrated aspects of Stitt’s career was his legendary musical duels with fellow saxophonist Gene Ammons. These friendly yet fiercely competitive sessions showcased the incredible improvisational skills of both musicians, as they would weave intricate musical dialogues that thrilled audiences. Albums such as “Boss Tenors” and live sessions like those recorded at Chicago’s McKie’s Disk Jockey Show Lounge highlight the dynamic interplay and mutual respect between Stitt and Ammons. These recordings are cherished by jazz aficionados for their raw energy, spontaneity, and the seamless blending of two saxophone titans.

Throughout his prolific career, Sonny Stitt recorded extensively, both as a leader and a sideman, contributing to over 100 albums. His work spans a variety of jazz styles, from swing to bop, and even ventures into soul jazz, demonstrating his versatility and willingness to explore new musical territories. Notable albums like “Stitt Plays Bird,” which pays homage to Charlie Parker and “Saxophone Supremacy,” showcase Stitt’s exceptional ability to interpret and innovate within the jazz tradition.

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