Sonny Stitt Quartet: Personal Appearance

Often regarded as a Parker copyist, the saxophonist is nonetheless inventive in this 1957 set composed mainly of well-known standards

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Often regarded simply as a Parker copyist, Stitt, over his long career, made hundreds of studio and live recordings on both tenor and alto but often of uneven quality. On Personal Appearance, one of his early and more successful dates, he was accompanied by an under-par Bobby Timmons (11 years his senior) and an otherwise satisfactory rhythm section. Although Bird’s influence is evident, Sonny succeeds in producing bop-inspired and inventive versions of mainly well-known standards.

Opening with a straightahead and lyrical rendition of Easy To Love, Sonny (alternating between tenor and alto) is gently propelled by bassist Willis and drummer Dennis. Easy Living is taken at exactly the right tempo, with Sonny delivering a soaring solo on alto, followed by a restrained Timmons, before Stitt returns on tenor. And so it goes.

Autumn In New York has Sonny at his most Parkerish. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon) and Avalon are all cogent and exciting, with Willis again demonstrating his dexterity. Sonny’s own composition Blues Greasy benefits from his climactic alto proclamations, and is arguably the best track.

Two “bonus” tracks feature Sonny at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by the Sal Salvador Quintet. Guitarist Salvador, pianist Mahones, bassist Rivera and drummer Hayes manage to keep up with a full-flight Sonny on an edited Loose Walk (seen and heard in the movie Jazz On A Summer’s Day), plus an extended and rousing Cherokee.

In a 1965 interview Sonny, speaking of a preference between the alto and the tenor, explained “I don’t think I know which one is best. I comply with the wishes of the audience. If they call [for] an alto solo, I play it for them. If they say ‘Play some tenor,’ I play the tenor.” In his Downbeat review Ira Gitler contended: “This is Stitt’s album, and he is tremendous. Sonny is all over both his horns, communicating directly and deeply. If you consider yourself a jazz lover, you should own this set”. You certainly should.

Discography
(1) Easy To Love; Easy Living; Autumn In New York; You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; For Some Friends; I Never Knew; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon); Original?; Avalon; Blues Greasy; (2) Loose Walk; Cherokee (56.31)
(1) Stitt (as, ts); Bobby Timmons (p); Edgar Willis (b); Kenny Dennis (d). New York, 12 May 1957.
(2) Sonny Stitt/Sal Salvador Quintet: Stitt (as); Gildo Mahones (p); San Salvador (g); Martin Rivera (b); Louis Hayes (d). Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI, 7 July 1958.
Poll Winners Records PWR 27279