August 14, 2006
THE OTHER SONNY:
Bebop's Greatest Sparring Partner (WILL FRIEDWALD, August 14, 2006, NY Sun)
When Art Pepper, one of the greatest alto saxophonists of the bebop era, published his 1994 autobiography, "Straight Life," he finished with a vivid account of what it was like to lock horns with fellow alto giant Sonny Stitt. Once, while Pepper was playing at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, Stitt, then on the road with Jazz at the Philharmonic, asked if he could sit in, which is a little like Mike Tyson asking to trade a few blows.Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2006 8:15 AM
"That's the thing with Sonny," Pepper wrote. "It's a communion, it's a battle, it's an ego trip, and that's the beautiful part of it." Pepper described how Stitt took the first solo, playing what seemed like 40 choruses for what seemed like an hour. "He played everything that could be played," Pepper said. To make matters worse for Pepper, he was in no condition to go up against a gladiator like Stitt; he was wasted on liquor and heroin, and was in the midst of a fight with his girlfriend. Yet somehow he rallied, he "forgot everything," and played way over his own head. At the end of Pepper's solo, Stitt just looked at him and said, "All right!"
When you ventured into a cutting contest with Sonny Stitt, you couldn't expect to beat him â€” the best you could do was win his approval. For Stitt (1924â€“82) merely to acknowledge that Pepper had played well made this one of the great moments of Pepper's entire career.
Stitt's key role in the early years of the modern jazz movement is illuminated by an excellent new boxed set, the three-CD "Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949â€“1952".