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Sonny Stitt. Why didn´t he become as famous as Dexter?

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Tune Up and Constellation was my introduction to Sonny and what an intro that was! I found all his Muse records to be of high quality. Of course, not everything else was. One of my favorite Sonny records is At the DJ Lounge, an example of his playing with a local band. Maybe sometimes he went through the motions but not that night. 

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And he had John Board on, uh...board. I treasure the side for John Board...and Eddie Buster. That type of Chicago "local" can carve any ass at any time, if not always down to the bone, deep enough to cause a permanent limp!

And if we want to keep a running total in the Kick-Ass Left Bank Record League, the standings are Sonny Stitts: 1-0, LTD: 0-2. Sporting News will give you the boxes 

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I don't think it hurt that Dex was chosen to star in "'Round Midnight". Could you imagine Stitt playing that role?

He'd punch someone out before the first day's shoot was over.

Look at the success of Chet Baker. I used to work with a drummer who had a #1 hit back in the disco era. He told me, "The music biz is 95% image, and 5% talent."

Sure, they were both great, but ultimately image wins over talent. I don't care if it's jazz or pop, the equation still holds, only now it's probably 99.9% image, and 0.1% talent, especially in the pop field. I don't know about the jazz field...

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1 hour ago, sgcim said:

I don't think it hurt that Dex was chosen to star in "'Round Midnight". Could you imagine Stitt playing that role?

He'd punch someone out before the first day's shoot was over.

Look at the success of Chet Baker. I used to work with a drummer who had a #1 hit back in the disco era. He told me, "The music biz is 95% image, and 5% talent."

Sure, they were both great, but ultimately image wins over talent. I don't care if it's jazz or pop, the equation still holds, only now it's probably 99.9% image, and 0.1% talent, especially in the pop field. I don't know about the jazz field...

Dexter's cachet in the jazz world was firmly in place long before "Round Midnight," and it was primarily based on his music.

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There's probably a false dialectic going on here.  It's not like a listener had to choose between Dex and Sonny - that listener could buy records from both.  I believe Dex dug Sonny's playing.  But Dexter's popularity was even more remarkable when you consider he was off the scene for much of the '70's, while at the same time you could buy tons of records of Stitt's and see him when he toured.  Even some of Dex's Blue Notes were hard to find during the mid-70's.  As for the promotional push that accompanied Dexter's reemergence, don't forget there was a similar push given at the time to Johnny Griffin (Dex and Griffin even played together at Carnegie Hall; Dex told the audience they would hear some "European soul tenor"), with more limited success; the promotion of Dex was not guaranteed to succeed.  So all props to long tall Dexter!

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1 hour ago, Larry Kart said:

Dexter's cachet in the jazz world was firmly in place long before "Round Midnight," and it was primarily based on his music.

Not with everyone; one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

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The first time I saw Sonny Stitt was on TV. During that time, our second TV program in Austria (ORF 2) sometimes had jazz  and one evening their was a short film about Dizzy and it must have been in the 70´s since Dizzy already had replaced the acoustic bass with a Fender Bass, and he talked to the audience and said "now we´ll play something from the past, from the 40´s, when we played together with Bird....." and they started with a very fast "Wee". Dizzy brilliant as ever, and then there was that really old man, who played such a beautiful alto it was incredible. Being a teenie and still not knowing very very much about all the musicians, for a second I thought "is this Bird, was it only a rumour that he died?", but later from album covers I learned that it is Sonny Stitt. 

It´s interesting, Dizzy was born in 1917 and Stitt in 1924, but Stitt looked at least 10-15 years older. But what he played.......fantastic ! 

About the question, why I "don´t like behind the beat": Well, most musicians I love don´t play behind the beat, all the boppers, the hardboppers, Miles, Trane, Dolphy, Don Cherry..... I haven´t noticed much "behind the beat", but if you listen to Dexter, it became so much behind the beat it was only due to the excellent rhythm section that they somehow managed to keep it "together". I once heard a really fast "April" done by Dizzy and Dex at the White House 1978 where you can hear the contrast.....

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Posted (edited)

15 hours ago, JSngry said:

And he had John Board on, uh...board. I treasure the side for John Board...and Eddie Buster. That type of Chicago "local" can carve any ass at any time, if not always down to the bone, deep enough to cause a permanent limp!

And if we want to keep a running total in the Kick-Ass Left Bank Record League, the standings are Sonny Stitts: 1-0, LTD: 0-2. Sporting News will give you the boxes 

Awhile ago I did some research on John Board. Couldn’t find a ton but did come across his obit. He was a graduate of famed DuSable HS and had a varied career.

JOHNNY BOARD, 70; BLUES, JAZZ GREAT ON TENOR SAXOPHONE

Edited by Brad

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AFAIK, that's the only jazz record he's on...I had DJs on a cassette for several decades, strait outta the kutoutt bin, had no personnel or anything, and I spent years of hours driving around trying to figure out just who the hell that OTHER player was...especially :"It All Depends On You", what a perfect, compact, swinging, SOULFUL expression that was. I mean, I went deep into the hood asking all the cats if they had this record and if they did, who was it, and, you know, EVERYBODY had Sonny Stitts records, and lots of them, but nobody had THIS one (it was then I realized that Sonny Stitts made SO many records that even if you had a buttload, there were about 20 buttloads more that you didn't have...). So I drove around some more, wearing that cassette out (but fortunately, never breaking it).

Finally, I think it was on board Krypton, I got to ask, and I think it was Chuck said, oh yeah, Johnny Board, great guy, played bari for years with BB (or was it Bobby...BB, I think)., so...Chicago...in my next life, if there is still jazz that means something, I want to live it in Chicago.

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12 hours ago, sgcim said:

Not with everyone; one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

On what basis, if you know?

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Posted (edited)

12 hours ago, sgcim said:

Not with everyone; one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

Surely that's a minority opinion though, right?  

 

IMO, comparing Dexter to Stitt is like comparing apples to oranges.  Even though they both played sax, their approaches are entirely different.  Stitt's like a mathematician. He's about being analytical and precise.  Dexter's a singer, a poet. His charisma is part of the musical equation because his music is about feeling -- to use Lester's expression, Dexter wants to "tell a story."  Stitt didn't want to tell a story.  His playing has more to do with shapes, patterns, geometries.

Of course, I'm generalizing.  Perhaps even generalizing too much.  But don't we all hear that?  

 

Edited by HutchFan

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14 hours ago, sgcim said:

Not with everyone; one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

Really?

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15 hours ago, sgcim said:

one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

Calling Dex one of the worst sax players ever is some real edgelord stuff. Whatever the reason, I can't agree but then I'm not a professional musician. :tdown

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As a huge Dexter Gordon fan, myself, I can understand some people not liking Dexter Gordon at all.   If his greatest was in his distinctiveness, that doesn't help people who don't like what was distinct about him.  Then there was the alcohol and some sloppiness at times.  

As Pres would say, Dexter could sing you a song.   And he could make it pure Dexter.  If that is not your brand, OK.  

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15 hours ago, sgcim said:

Not with everyone; one pro sax player I know thinks he was one of the worst sax players ever.

Dude, you know some weird people.

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3 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

On what basis, if you know?

jealousy?

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3 hours ago, HutchFan said:

Surely that's a minority opinion though, right?  

 

IMO, comparing Dexter to Stitt is like comparing apples to oranges.  Even though they both played sax, their approaches are entirely different.  Stitt's like a mathematician. He's about being analytical and precise.  Dexter's a singer, a poet. His charisma is part of the musical equation because his music is about feeling -- to use Lester's expression, Dexter wants to "tell a story."  Stitt didn't want to tell a story.  His playing has more to do with shapes, patterns, geometries.

Of course, I'm generalizing.  Perhaps even generalizing too much.  But don't we all hear that?  

 

Hutch Fan, you put it perfectly.

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Probably missing the point to label Stitt a "mathematician". He was a comfort player, pure and simple. And he developed a pretty damn high skill set with which to be comfortable. When he was motivated to push, he could push. and when he wanted to coast, he could coast as well as anybody, better than most, and maybe better than anybody. But he was in no way a "thoughtful" or "analytical" player, that's not the world he lived in, ever. He lived in a world where you got on the stand, defended your honor to whatever extent you needed too (and that could change at a moment's notice), and then...whatever the rest of the night had, go to that. Comfort, not just from playing, but in the life itself.

This only sounds "condescending" if you don't have the fullest amount of respect and love for that kind of life. I do, I definitely do. Talk about a "pure jazz life"...no teaching gigs, no studio gigs, no hi-profile publicity gigs, no day job (not even occasional) just...go and play and then do it again. Period.

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Posted (edited)

44 minutes ago, JSngry said:

He was a comfort player, pure and simple. And he developed a pretty damn high skill set with which to be comfortable. 

This feels a bit harsh. Perhaps he isn't mathematical but I think Stitt had a real sensibility which went beyond technique. He had, to my non-musician's dumb ears, an ability to place a precise but uplifting note that could still eke out feeling like Turrentine or Ammons. His records are also quite varied in terms of the crowd and setting that he was playing with / in.

Edited by Rabshakeh

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4 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

On what basis, if you know?

Technique, and playing too much behind the beat, literally drove this guy nuts.

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1 hour ago, Rabshakeh said:

This feels a bit harsh. Perhaps he isn't mathematical but I think Stitt had a real sensibility which went beyond technique. He had, to my non-musician's dumb ears, an ability to place a precise but uplifting note that could still eke out feeling like Turrentine or Ammons. His records are also quite varied in terms of the crowd and setting that he was playing with / in.

Comfort is a very real sensibility. I'm a fan of it.

1 hour ago, sgcim said:

Technique, and playing too much behind the beat, literally drove this guy nuts.

Well, then, just deserts.

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I think he was mathematical in his playing, but not by thinking in those terms. It was just something that came to his playing through his development over time as a saxophone player.

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there's a great Steve Coleman Interview where he talks at length about Stitt, telling e.g. this story:

" I’ll tell you one story I saw with him. There was a saxophone player in Chicago, Guido Sinclair. Normally, local saxophone players, they have certain things they can do really well. But they’re not really very broad. I mean, not usually. There’s usually a reason why they’re local, to put it that way. But this guy had certain keys that he could play in, like really, really fluently. He had these certain little phrases and things like that. He kept his fingers really close to the keys, it looked like his fingers weren’t moving. One time I saw him with Stitt. Here the guy was whipping all over the place. Stitt was kind of a gladiator kind of guy. So they were playing, and this guy was whipping all over the place, so Stitt saw what was happening and he analyzed the situation. And the next tune he just called off something that he knew the guy couldn’t play on. He didn’t even know the guy real good but he could tell, he knew just by listening to the way the guy played that he wouldn’t be able to handle this. So he called off a tune which was a normal tune but he started off real quickly in a key that he knew the guy couldn’t deal with. The guy fell out of his place, all of a sudden all the speed and everything came to a complete stop. And Stitt was still able to do all the Stitt shit. [...] Stitt just tore this guy apart in public. "

what comes out clearly in that interview is that Stitt was a local player and an inspiration to young SC but apparently also to young local saxophone players in Detroit and elsewhere - while DG probably did a better job at connecting with the international jazz fan... what also comes out is this very self-centered attitude - to Stitt, the best concert is one where he looks great while everybody else looks really bad... I guess in a concert this type of attitude can work out but you don't record a perfect album with that attitude... 

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Posted (edited)

7 hours ago, Niko said:

what comes out clearly in that interview is that Stitt was a local player and an inspiration to young SC but apparently also to young local saxophone players in Detroit and elsewhere - while DG probably did a better job at connecting with the international jazz fan... what also comes out is this very self-centered attitude - to Stitt, the best concert is one where he looks great while everybody else looks really bad... I guess in a concert this type of attitude can work out but you don't record a perfect album with that attitude... 

What that story also shows is that Stitt had a deep, DEEP understanding of chords and chordal relationships -- and that was the basis of his playing. 

Stitt's ability to analyze the situation and call out a tune that he KNEW his "adversary" would not be able to play well indicates that Stitt's approach to music is comparable to the way an expert chess player can analyze a chess board.  That is, he thought in pattern-like, even mathematical, terms.  And that's (one reason) why Stitt could cut other sax players so effectively on the bandstand.

Of course, I'm not saying that Stitt was a literal mathematician.  No more than I'm saying that Dexter wrote poems.  They're just analogies.    

 

EDIT: 
By the way, I don't think Jim's description of Stitt as a "comfort" player is a contradiction in any way to the analogy that I'm offering. I think we're just focusing on different aspects of the same thing.  For example, when we think of "comfort food," we think of things that are regular and familiar and predictable.  Biscuits and gravy.  Mashed potatoes.  Chili.  BBQ.  We like these foods because we know what's coming, and we LIKE what's coming.  Turning to music, the Blues is just the same, right?  I, IV and V.  The familiarity -- the knowing what's coming -- is what makes it feel so good.  ... Well, what's more predictable than math?  2 + 2 always equals 4.  That ain't ever gonna change.  Of course, Stitt was operating on a MUCH higher level than that.  But it was still mathematical -- regular and predictable.

 

Edited by HutchFan

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There's comfort in symmetry, in knowing how the notes fit together. Stitt could play in any key and at any tempo (he's a piece of my local lore around this...), but he'd play the same basic (albeit virtuosic) vocabulary no matter what. That's comfort. It's not a bad thing, not at all. Knowing that your thing will always be there, always. ALWAYS.

Couple that with the killer instinct - maybe it's a lost concept these days, but I've seen glimpses of it, although not in this century - these guys who roamed about working as singles and what not...that shit WAS cutthroat, because if you let yourself get bettered too many times, word gets around, and your gigs - local gigs, remember, these were very much "circuit" gigs (I don't think Stitt had an agent, did he?), your gigs either dry up or your price goes down, or something else happens to your livelihood, your very survival. This is not play, this is literally your life depending on being able to deal, to throw down, to do battle in such a way that if you don't outright win, you fight to an honorable draw. Oh, no gigs for a few months, ok, guess I'll....NO. There is no Plan B. Maybe laying up with your lady wherever, but that gets old in a big hurry.

This is some real shit...or was. People today got teaching gigs and whatnot, they have a totally different concept of "comfort". For Stitt, "comfort" meant knowing that you had all your weapons ready to do whatever was called for. If playing nice was called for, hey, got that. If some fool wants to get puffy, got that too. And if a fellow gunslinger comes in, got that too.

Totally different type of comfort than getting a grant and/or a teaching gig and/or session work. Totally different comfort, totally different life.

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