Sonny Stitt was well-known for the ability to play saxophone fast, with authority over the most difficult of chord progressions. Sonny recorded his first session as leader in 1946 for Savoy with Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke. In 1950, he made the first of many recordings with Gene Ammons, an association that would last through three decades and produce what is probably his best known records, including "Boss Tenors" from 1961. "It's Magic," from 1969, is a wonderful reminder that Sonny Stitt could burn bebop (check out the marvelous rendition of "Four") and make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when he played a moving ballad (as on "Body And Soul"). With Don Patterson, organ and Billie James, drums.
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As an instrumentalist, Stitt bears somewhat the same relationship to the American Songbook as a vocalist such as Holiday or Sinatra. On his 1950's albums for Roost as well as a session such as this one, he would arrive at the studio with few preconceptions, lay down 10-12 tracks, and leave several hours later with an LP's worth of textbook examples of the art of interpreting familiar standards. He may well be the most "perfect" player of them all (his solo on "Just Friends" should be proof enough), though certainly not the most adventurous or creative. Stitt had a compulsion for closure: he rarely saw a tonic chord he couldn't resist. The result is solo after solo of consummate logic and structural wholeness, characterized by beautifully turned if predictable melodic ideas selected from a repertory of formulaic phrases, elegantly and seamlessly pieced together into compelling musical narratives. No alto or tenor saxophonist played with a purer, truer sound, right out of the blues yet devoid of the grit and rawness of the players who labored to sound authentically soulful.
In 1969 Stitt, unfortunately, was still occasionally going to his "Varitone" electronic octave doubler and continuing to record with organ accompaniment. The B-3 player on this particular session was Sonny's favorite--Donald Patterson--joined here by a drummer listed as "Billy Pierce" (though the Delmark site probably comes closer to getting it right by identifying him as Sonny's preferred percussion mate at the time, "Billie [sic] James"). The organ and horn both sound rather thin and distant on this Delmark recording, and there's a somewhat sterile ambience to the proceedings (as though the three insrumentalists were recorded separately and mixed later) on what is clearly a "commercial," if not perfunctory, session. If you're new to Sonny, look first for another recent Stitt release, "New York Jazz," but don't be overly quick to discount an album such as this. It may be "just another Stitt side," but with a performer like Sonny, that can be pretty high praise.