A dynamic and influential figure in the jazz world, Edward “Sonny” Stitt was an American saxophonist known for his prodigious technique and powerful sound. Born in Boston in 1924 but raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Stitt’s impact on the world of jazz remains significant, particularly due to his work in the bebop style and his proficiency on both the alto and tenor saxophones.
Stitt began his musical journey early, receiving formal musical training at the Boston Conservatory. By the time he was in his early twenties, Stitt was making a name for himself in the jazz world, first gaining attention as a member of the Tiny Bradshaw band.
Stitt’s real breakthrough, however, came when he joined the Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1946. During this period, Stitt developed a style often compared to Charlie Parker due to its intricate phrasing and high-energy bebop sound. Despite these comparisons, Stitt maintained a distinct voice, characterized by his powerful tone and his relentless drive. His time with Gillespie was pivotal, solidifying his place in the bebop movement and launching him to greater prominence.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Stitt became known for his mastery of both the alto and tenor saxophones, a rarity among saxophonists. Stitt was equally comfortable and inventive on both instruments, and his recorded work often showcases his ability to switch effortlessly between the two. This versatility contributed significantly to Stitt’s status as a top-tier jazz musician.
Stitt’s prolific recording career, which included collaborations with jazz greats such as Bud Powell, Miles Davis, and Oscar Peterson, further bolstered his reputation. His discography is expansive, marked by memorable records like “Tune-Up!” and “Constellation,” where his virtuosic technique, rhythmic precision, and creative improvisation skills are on full display.
In addition to his performance and recording career, Stitt also contributed to the jazz repertoire, penning a number of tunes that have since become jazz standards. Compositions like “Eternal Triangle” and “Blues for Prez and Bird” are testaments to his compositional talent, showcasing a musician equally at home crafting melodies as he was improvising on them.
Sonny Stitt passed away in 1982, but his influence in the jazz world remains. His commitment to the bebop style, his mastery of both the alto and tenor saxophones, and his extensive discography make him a key figure in the history of jazz. For those seeking to understand the evolution of jazz saxophone, the work and life of Sonny Stitt offer invaluable insights. His innovative spirit and unyielding dedication to his craft continue to inspire countless musicians and listeners alike.
Page last updated 7/7/2023.