Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Aug. 25, 2006
Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952 (Prestige)
No one's denying that saxophonist Sonny Stitt was a superb player who left his mark on the jazz vocabulary. There's always been some speculation, revived here in the cogent program notes by Chronicle contributor Harvey Pekar, as to whether Stitt developed his own style in the early years of bebop or whether he was primarily a Charlie Parker clone like so many others. Although their styles and intensity are remarkably similar, perhaps it's best left to jazz historians to analyze such technical minutia while jazz fans, 50 years after the fact, can just enjoy this music for its sheer exuberance and breathtaking flair. Recorded over a brief 2-year span during the full flowering of the bebop revolution, this 3-CD set finds Stitt, primarily on tenor sax, in a series of small group dates for the independent Prestige Records with many of the cutting-edge musicians of the day. These include stunning sessions with pianist Bud Powell, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and drummer Max Roach. Of particular interest are collaborations with saxophonist Gene Ammons, with whom Stitt continued a fruitful relationship well into the Seventies. The two lock horns on several dates here, including the original recording of their signature joust, "Blues Up and Down." The three discs are crammed with 76 sides, all culled from 78 rpm singles running three minutes or less. The performances are tight and succinct, seemingly without a wasted note. Many of these sides were jukebox singles in their day. Although not necessarily for the casual jazz listener, Stitt's Bits puts a deserving spotlight on an underappreciated jazz giant.