Sonny Stitt was, of course, one of the greatest sax players of all time. It has now been over a year since the last time I wrote about him here (JFASN # 43, over on the original but now abandoned BlogSpot version of this site), so I believe we’re overdue for another look at him.
In 1997, the label 32 Jazz released a CD titled “Sonny Stitt: Endgame Brilliance.” This is a combination of two classic Stitt albums that were recorded just months apart 1972, “Constellation” and “Tune-Up!”
The personnel for each session were virtually identical, with the exception of the drummer.
Sonny Stitt, alto and tenor sax
Barry Harris, piano
Sam Jones, bass
Alan Dawson, drums (tracks 9-15 only, the “Tune-Up!” section)
Roy Brooks, drums (tracks 1-8 only, the “Constellation” section)
As you will have gathered, the combined album “Endgame Brilliance” has 15 tracks altogether. Two are Stitt’s own compositions, the rest having been drawn from various other jazz luminaries including Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, and others.
“Endgame Brilliance” opens with the song “Constellation,” a Charlie Parker tune. It is followed by the remaining seven tracks from that album. “Constellation” is a sprightly tune, and Stitt & company seem to fly right through it.
“Constellation” the song does an excellent job of setting the pace for the rest of the set that follows, but the purist will still find themselves wondering why the music was presented in reverse order.
Here is Sonny Stitt performing the song, “Constellation.”
Moving along, next we hear “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You,” from the combined talents of Bing Crosby, Ned Washington and Victor Young. This one is a bit more mellow than the opening number, and that’s just fine because it gives the rhythm section a chance to show their stuff.
“Webb City” from Bud Powell is up next. This is a happy tune that moves along in a way that will help drive the blues away. It’s also the shortest song on the combined album, running only three and a half minutes. It is quickly followed by a Stitt composition by the name of “By Accident.”
Whether “by accident” or intentionally, “By Accident” seems to be a musical continuation of Powell’s song. There are some interesting similarities between the two, and I daresay that someone who was not listening closely would think they were listening to one ten-minute long song with short break. I suppose that isn’t too surprising, considering the songs are played by the same group of musicians. A certain amount of similarity is inevitable.
The Ray Brown/Gil Fuller tune, “Ray’s Idea” follows. This is another short song, running just under four minutes. But it packs a lot of great music into that time! Stitt is on the alto here, sounding superb. The rhythm section does a superb job of helping carry it through to the end.
Skipping ahead, the Sammy Kahn/Jules Styne tune “It’s Magic” begins unassumingly enough with Harris on the piano, followed in short order by Jones on the bass and Stitt, once again on alto. This is a quietly impressive ballad that provides a nice counterpoint to some of the more energetic tunes.
Let’s move along to the “Tune-Up!” tracks, 9 through 15. Track 9 is, of course, the title song, from the prolific pen of Miles Davis. With the same crew, save for the drummer, Dawson this time, we jump right in. This is a great song that pairs Stitt (on his tenor) and Harris as twin leads, supported by Dawson and Brooks. Eventually Stitt takes a short break and lets Harris take over, but only for a few seconds. Then Stitt returns and stays in charge ’til the end.
Here is Sonny and the guys performing “Tune-Up!”
“Idaho” from rock and R&B songwriter Jesse Stone is next. I had never heard of this song before, which is my loss because it’s a pretty damn good piece of work! The guys rip right through it, with Stitt and Harris carrying the main load.
The Dizzy Gillespie song, “Groovin’ High,” has long been one of my favorites, and these guys more than do it justice. Stitt is again on his alto, blowing up a storm from start to finish. This is one of the all-time classics in the jazz world, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it as much as I do.
The album closes with one of George and Ira Gershwin’s perennially popular sings, “I Got Rhythm” from the 1930 show, “Girl Crazy.” This song has been pleasing music lovers (and the heirs to the Gershwin’s copyright royalties) for over 80 years. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t read it in the liner notes, but Stitt goes back and forth between tenor and alto on this one, with Harris, Brooks and Dawson all doing their damndest to keep up. This is the longest song on the combined albums, running just under ten minutes. You will not be bored!
Needless to say, “Sonny Stitt’s Endgame Brilliance” is a fantastic album that I think will make a superb addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
You can learn more about Sonny Stitt and his music by reading the extensive biography Sandra Burlingame has written about him at JazzBiographies.com. The Verve Music Group has a nice bio of him on their web site. And SonnyStitt.com has extensive information about him. The webmaster of this site, who is not a member of Stitt’s family, has promised:
This website is for educational purposes only. No sales or advertising of any kind will be permitted. This is a non-profit site and will forever remain as such. It has been a labor of love for me and will remain respectful to the artist and their music.
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