Sonny Stitt: saxophonist, composer

Edward “Sonny” Stitt (born Edward Boatner, Jr.): born Feb. 2, 1924 in Boston; died July 22, 1982, in Washington, D.C.

  • Sonny Stitt, whose father was a college music professor and whose brother was a concert pianist, studied piano at age 7, then clarinet and alto saxophone.
  • Worked with Sabby Lewis in 1942, and became an early disciple of Charlie Parker.
  • In the 1940s, Stitt played alto in the bop-oriented big bands of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie.
  • Began playing tenor and baritone in 1949 and formed a two-tenor group with Gene Ammons.
  • His recordings on Prestige included albums with Bud Powell and J.J. Johnson, and for a brief time in 1960, he was in Miles Davis’ group.
  • In the early 1970s, Stitt joined the “Giants of Jazz” with Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kai Winding, Thelonious Monk and Al McKibbon.
Sonny Stitt

Sonny Stitt (Promotional photo)

Bob Young on Sonny Stitt

There’s a reason why everyone who was anyone in jazz—Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, Hank Jones, Miles Davis—wanted to share the stage with Sonny Stitt. He was indisputably one of the most inventive and inspiring saxophonists in the business.

In the 1950s, “original” wasn’t a description usually associated with Stitt only because he was unfairly dismissed by some as a mere Charlie Parker clone. The music the Boston-born reedman went on to make in subsequent years, though, on alto, tenor and baritone sax, has endured and made those charges seem trite. Stitt’s body of music truly was original, as much because of its soulful drive as its glorious beauty.

By infusing bebop with a blues feel that came naturally and the deep-rooted swing he’d absorbed early, Stitt became an unpretentious pioneer who broadened the fan base for a vital new music.

Yes, he could roar off fast as lightning and relax a ballad to sleep. But most of all, Stitt could tell a story with his horn—man, could he tell a story—and like the contributions of the finest players in jazz, those tales have stood the test of time.