New York Jazz
Alto and tenor player Stitt domesticated Charlie Parker’s style; he took off the rough edges, honed the main phrases down to their essentials, worked out more logical if less spontaneous ways of connecting them, and then improvised by rearranging the pieces to produce virtuosic and flawless bebop solos. Although derivative, Stitt was not unoriginal – you can recognise him in an instant – and within the strict parameters of his style he could be very inventive, but what distinguishes his playing more than anything is the perfection he attained. This 1956 quartet session, with Ray Brown and swing drummer Jo Jones, is a typical but exemplary example of his art; the highlight is ‘I know that you know’, which compares favourably with Sidney Bechet’s awesome 1941 version.
Sits in with the Oscar Peterson Trio
This flawless 1957 session was probably the highlight of Stitt’s career; his crystalline, searing tone on alto, and grittier, thick tenor tone never sounded better, there is a great atmosphere, everything swings, and each and every one of Stitt’s and Peterson’s solos are studies in mainstream-modern jazz invention. The highlight is ‘Moten Swing’, which must be one of the grooviest recordings ever made.
Together again for the last time
I was on the look-out for this album for over ten years, but when it did eventually turn up in a second-hand record shop it was worth the wait. This 1973 clash of the tenors between Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons pits agility against weight; the material is simple, straight-ahead jazz, Sam Jones booms away on bass, and all the emphasis is on Stitt and Ammons’ competitive solos. Stitt is on excellent form, demonstrating his flawless virtuosity as he spins together solos from his collection of perfectly crafted phrases, while Ammons, nearing the end of his life, is considerably less sophisticated, sounds like he is starting to lose it to some extent, but has a sound like a tonne of bricks. There are also some ballad performances, on which Stitt again sounds flawless, while Ammons sounds flawed but incredibly emotional.