Sonny Stitt Quartet – live at Umbria Jazz Festival – July 30, 1974 – RAI – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Sonny Stitt in concert this week – an all-too-short set from the Umbria Jazz Festival, recorded on July 30, 1974 by the venerable RAI in Rome, and broadcasting this 13 and a half minute snippet. Further evidence that even a little Sonny Stitt is better than no Sonny Stitt at all. He’s joined by Georges Arvanitas, piano – Jackie Samson, bass and Charles Saudrais, drums.
Known for his warm tone, Sonny Stiff was one of the best-documented saxophonists of his generation, recording more than 100 albums. He was nicknamed the “Lone Wolf” by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern because of his relentless touring and devotion to jazz. Stitt was sometimes viewed as a Charlie Parker mimic, especially earlier in his career, but gradually came to develop his own sound and style, particularly when performing on tenor saxophone.
In the 1970s, Stitt slowed his recording output slightly, and in 1972, he produced another classic, Tune-Up!, which was and still is regarded by many jazz critics, such as Scott Yanow, as his definitive record. Indeed, his fiery and ebullient soloing was quite reminiscent of his earlier playing. In 1971 he managed to record four albums; Turn It On! with Leon Spencer, Melvin Sparks, Idris Muhammad, and Virgil Jones, You Talk That Talk! with Gene Ammons and George Freeman as new members of the group, Just The Way It Was – Live At The Left Bank with Don Patterson and Billy James, and Black Vibrations which featured the same group as in Turn It On!. Just The Way It Was – Live At The Left Bank which was released in 2000 also featured Stitt as an electric saxophone player, which was the first album which encompassed it.
Stitt’s productivity dropped in the 1970s due to alcoholism. Stitt had drunk heavily since giving up heroin in the late fifties and the abuse was beginning to take its toll. A series of alcohol-induced seizures caused Stitt to abstain and kick the habit for good.
In 1975, Sonny had performed with Ron Burton, Major Holley an John Lewis at the Village Vanguard.
Stitt joined the all-star group The Giants of Jazz (which also featured Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kai Winding and bassist Al McKibbon) and made albums for Atlantic, Concord and EmArcy. His last recordings were made in Japan. A rejuvenated Stitt also toured with Red Holloway in the late 1970s, who noted a marked improvement in his playing.
Here’s a reminder of his mid-70s period via this appearance at the 1974 Umbria Jazz Festival on July 30, 1974.