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Sonny Stitt: The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Studio Sessions

Sonny Stitt was consigned to the shadow of Charlie Parker before Bird died. It was something the saxophonist, and champions like Kenny Clarke, thought was a bad rap and protested for decades. As 20/20 hindsight suggests this was the wrong issue for measuring Stitt’s legacy, for it is largely irrelevant to the core of his art. Clearly, Stitt had the virtuosity on both alto and tenor to be an era-shaping innovator and, just as clearly, lacked the temperament. Stitt didn’t have to push the envelope, because everything he needed was to be found in blues, ballads and bebop. Stitt used these basic materials not just to create a discography that is as durable as it is prolific, but also to create one of the more endearing personas in jazz history. Barely a chorus, let alone a track, goes by on The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Studio Sessions without Stitt making you grin or sigh. Given that nine of the 14 studio albums Stitt recorded for Roost between 1952 and ’65 were with just a conventional rhythm section, his abilities to carry session after session is remarkable.

The collection opens with a CD of large group sessions arranged by Johnny Richards and Quincy Jones. On the ’53 septet and octet dates, Richards was a credible collaborator, who co-penned tunes like the poignant “Pink Satin” and the Latin-spiced “Opus 202,” deftly offset Stitt’s solos with flourishes of brass and flute or piccolo, and heard, like Stitt, the jazz viability of schmaltz like “Shine on Harvest Moon.” The two Jones-charted ’55 tentet dates have a little more of a hit-and-run feel, but the hits, including two midtempo Stitt blowing vehicles-the “Rhythm”-based “Sonny’s Bunny” and “Quince,” a blues-are noteworthy for their punch. The Jones sessions also feature a larger contingent of complementary soloists, including Oscar Pettiford and Hank and Thad Jones.

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