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The brilliant Sonny Stitt (born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 2, 1924) remained largely in the shadow of his mentor and inspiration Charlie Parker during the forties and fifties. However, by the time these recordings were made, Stitt was beginning to free himself from that weight. Bird had died in March of 1955 and so Stitt returned to the alto, after having switched to the tenor sax to avoid comparisons. Stitt himself remembered this situation during a 1965 interview with Les Tomkins: “Lester Young told me a long time ago: ‘Sonny, just take your time, and let ‘em pat their foot, baby’. Coleman Hawkins told me the same thing. So I do that. It’s easier on the musicians, really. I ain’t going to put myself under no strain. Take my time, play something pretty –swing. But, see, everybody ain’t like that. Some cats are nervous, and they feel as though they have to do more on their instrument, I imagine, than what was done before. And they’re trying to find a way. But you can’t do no more than has already been done. Remember a man named Art Tatum –now who can play any more than that? I used to go and listen to him, and Oscar Peterson is the only one who has come close. And Charlie Parker, who can outplay him? Then there’s Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and an old man named Louis Armstrong. And Coleman Hawkins, he’s not young any more. but, buddy, YOU get on that bandstand with him, or any of those cats I called off, and you got your hands full! You better believe me. And you’re going to lose the race if you start to mess. These young guys who come on with all that animosity and petty jealousy, and they’re going to conquer somebody. I don’t know why they do that stuff. That’s stupid. All they should do is go up there and learn, and enjoy what they’re doing. Jazz is supposed to be a happy thing. You take one of today’s weirdies and put him on the stand with Ben Webster, Don Byas, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims –he’ll go home with his head in his hands. You ain’t supposed to play over people’s heads. You’re trying to give a message to people, and make it as simple as possible for the average man.”

“As for having any preference between the alto and the tenor”, commented Stitt during the same interview, “I don’t think I know which one I like the best. Saxophone is nothing but a saxophone. It’s just in two different keys. I comply with the wishes of the audience. If they call on me to play an alto solo, I play it for them. If they say: ‘Play some tenor’, I play the tenor. That’s it. The reason I played mostly tenor in Ronnie Scott’s club last May: it wasn’t my alto. I wasn’t familiar with the horn, and I didn’t like it too much. My horn was in the States being repaired, gold–plated and all that stuff, and the man was so slow about it. So I decided to just wait until I got home, and got my horn back. I didn’t even bring my own alto mouthpiece with me. I played alto whenever they requested it. You see, I know I’m a public servant in music, and I try to please the people.”

Stitt would alternate between the alto and tenor sax in the following years, recording frequently and achieving the status of living legend. Producer George Wein assembled a group of bebop veterans called “The Giants of Jazz” in 1971, to perform on an extensive international tour. Stitt was chosen as the saxophonist in the group, whose other members were Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey. Sonny died on July 22, 1982.

A true legend of jazz piano, Hank Jones passed away on May 16, 2010, at the age of 91. One of seven children, he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 31, 1918. His family was extremely musical; his two older sisters studied piano, and his two younger brothers – Thad, a trumpeter, and Elvin, a drummer – also became world famous jazz musicians. “Yes, I’m older than either Thad or Elvin”, Hank stated in a 1974 interview with Les Tomkins. “Elvin’s my kid brother, and he’s six feet taller than I am! One thing which stands out still in my mind from our childhood: we used to have these little impromptu sessions. Of course, it was a natural thing: we didn’t consider them sessions, you know. One of us would start playing, and the other two would just start playing along. And this would go on for maybe hours – until my mother ran us out of the house or something! But we had a good time.”

Hank’s first professional job was with Hot Lips Page at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street where he joined Billy Eckstine’s big band in 1945. The following year he joined Coleman Hawkins and from 1947 to 1951 he toured the world with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) accompanying Ella Fitzgerald. In 1952 he joined Artie Shaw and then worked with Johnny Hodges, followed by Tyree Glenn. He joined Benny Goodman in 1956 and then became the staff pianist at CBS studios in 1959, a position which would last for seventeen years.

Throughout his career, Hank has played and recorded with a virtual who’s who of legendary jazz musicians. With over five hundred albums and CDs recorded and countless concerts under his belt, there weren’t too many important names in jazz during his lifetime that Hank had not played or recorded with.

Jones and Stitt were first recorded together in 1953, during a live set as members of the Buddy Rich Quartet. It was captured by radio devices at the Bandbox in New York. That date would be followed in 1955 by their first studio recordings together, with Jones as the pianist of the Quincy Jones Orchestra for the Roost album Sonny Stitt Plays Quincy Jones. That same year, the saxophonist and pianist taped their first small group album, also for Roost, titled Sonny Stitt Plays. They were backed on that date by Freddie Green on guitar, Wendell Marshall on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums. They wouldn’t record together again until 1957, when the first of the sessions included on this set took place – a quartet date that would be issued on the LP Sonny Stitt with The New Yorkers (the three alternate takes presented here were not included on the original LP).

Stitt and Jones made their next session together in 1962, when they recorded five tracks, of which four would be included on the LP Stitt in Orbit (“Fine and Frisky” wasn’t issued on the album which also contained two tracks –“Beware Rocks Coming Down” and “Six-OSeven- Blues” – from a different date without Hank Jones). The next year both musicians would participate on the quartet album Now!, and the quintet LP Salt and Pepper, which marks Stitt’s only existing collaboration ever with the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Now! was part of Stitt’s transition from the alto to the tenor sax, a transition necessary to shuck off the mantle that he was little more than a Charlie Parker clone. While Parker’s influence remained a basic part of Stitt’s articulation and phrasing, he eventually became a foremost practitioner based on his own significant jazz accomplishments. This album is virtually alto free, with the small sax used on just one tune, “Never-Sh!” The frenetic display of high-speed fingering and dazzling work with chord changes that characterized some of Stitt’s early work is virtually absent from this session. The playlist lets Stitt bring to the table his capacity to be at ease in a variety of scenarios, from his bouncy, boppish “Surfi n’” to an imaginative improvisation on “Estralita”, to a lovely ballad interpretation of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” Jones gets plenty of time to display his unmatched prowess on the piano on such tunes as “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” Salt and Pepper is, with the sole exception of the brief “Theme from Lord of the Flies”, very much a jam session. “Salt and Pepper” is a heated midtempo blues, while the two competitive tenors stretch out on “S’posin’” and a lengthy “Perdido.” Actually, the most memorable selection from the date is “Stardust,” on which Stitt switches to alto. His beautiful playing behind Gonsalves’ warm melody statement turned the session into a classic. Following that, nearly a decade would pass before Hank and Sonny were recorded together again. In 1972, they taped the Prestige quartet
album Goin’ Down Slow (with George Duvivier on bass and Idris Muhammad on drums), followed in 1975 by the Sonet album The Bop Session, which featured the two musicians joining forces with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, John Lewis on piano on two tracks, Percy Heath on bass, and Max Roach on drums.

Their next and last collaboration was the LP Good Life, again in a quartet format, which also featured George Duvivier on bass, and Grady Tate on drums. It was recorded in Tokyo, Japan, on November 16, 1980.

The special synergy of Stitt and Jones is apparent from the outset and remains throughout these sessions featured here. Phono Records has compiled very sensibly all legendary studio sessions between these two giants.
All of the dates here are quartets, with the exception of the last one, on which fellow hornman Paul Gonsalves, of Duke Ellington Orchestra fame, was added to the group in what is his only existing collaboration with Stitt.
Jones gets plenty of time to display his unmatched prowess on the piano and comps always well behind Stitt’s solos. Sonny on his side always sounds very much inspired with a transparent and beautiful sound throughout all sessions.

4 complete albums on 2 CDs with a 12 page booklet with complete information. Unmissable!

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