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Sonny Stitt: Just the Way It Was

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Though lauded throughout his career as a great technician who could swing his tail off, Sonny Stitt has not gotten the recognition he deserves as an innovator. People have always scoffed at his claim that he evolved his style independently of Charlie Parker, but on a couple of 1944 Tiny Bradshaw airshots he can be heard playing in an almost completely evolved bop style. This is pretty early to have been influenced by Parker. Parker influenced alto saxman John Jackson by then, but he’d played with Parker in Jay McShann’s sax section. Stitt said he’d first heard and jammed with Parker in 1943, and Bird had commented on how similar their styles were. Later Stitt probably did pick up ideas from Parker, but it’s quite possible that in 1944 they’d just been influenced by some of the same people, i.e., Lester Young and maybe Scoops Carry. Few jazzmen were as advanced on any instrument as Stitt was then; he was definitely among the first boppers to emerge.

It is legitimate to criticize Stitt for not evolving over the last 30 years or so of his career, although many jazz artists, including some great ones, such as Dizzy Gillespie, stood pat after developing their characteristic styles. At least Gillespie worked in a variety of contexts, though. Stitt made so many discs with just a rhythm section.

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