Original US release on Roost Records:
The more observant will have picked up that the Roost cover photo of Stitt is transposed left to right. The art decision by Vogue is correct in my view – the eye follows the direction of Sonny’s gaze, and the text flows in the same direction, left to right. Elementary. You do wonder how the artwork was supplied, along with the copy tape. In the pre-digital age, even pre-Letraset, a colour negative of Stitt, enabling it to be reversed separately from the text? We should know these things, but I suspect not.
It doesn’t seem possible for anyone to put pen to paper on the subject of Sonny Stitt without immediately diving into Charlie Parker comparisons. In Stitt’s own words:
Me and Charlie Parker sounded the same way years and years and years ago. He said: “You sound like me.” I said: “Well, you sound like me.” And we agreed: “We can’t help that, can we?” Then we’d go off and get some beer, play some music, or something.
Words are just words while music is something more and we do music at LJC, as well as words. So the ultimate comparison – Stitt and Parker – for the ears. In his scholarly liner notes, Alun Morgan notes that the Stitt track “Birds Eye” is a rendition of Parker’s “Steeplechase” – a typically relaxed attitude toward copyright before the lawyers piled in, thus providing an opportunity to compare the two men working within the same tune.
Track Selection: Birds Eye – Stitt (1957)
Artists – Sonny Sitt session
Sonny Stitt (alto) Hank Jones (piano) Wendell Marshall (bass) Shadow Wilson (drums) Recorded for Roost Records, New York City August 30, 1957
Charlie Parker original: The Steeplechase (1948) from The Immortal Charlie Parker Volume 1. Decca/ London
Artists – Charlie Parker session
Miles Davis (trumpet) Charlie Parker (alto) John Lewis (piano) Curley Russell (bass) Max Roach (drums) recorded for Savoy Records, New York City, April 1948
For the alto, it’s no contest is it, really. Parker’s freewheeling summersaults, blinding speed and ingenuity push Stitt a little into the shadow, but they are both great! Stitt’s lithe figures are a good match to Parker. Why deprive yourself of one or the other due to some mythic “who’s best”? contest. It’s good to be reminded of the genius of Parker – though not “immortal” in the literal sense, having passed away a couple of years before the Stitt recording.
Another interest in the Parker track is the 22 year old on trumpet, Miles Davis, already a three-year veteran of the recording studio, perfect in the unison passages but sounding a little hesitant in solo. From 1948 he still had a long climb ahead.
Vinyl: UK Vogue Records LAE.1291 (UK issue of Roost RST 2226)
The Decca Vogue Records sub-label, both the Sitt and the Parker are Decca engineering. Despite the improvement in the quality of studio recording over the decade that separates the two recordings, the brisk Parker session sounds bright and crisp, with its tight brass voicings: a steeplechase indeed. The Stitt session sounds a little soft, the rhythm section less forward,and surprisingly for a horse race, slow in comparison. Parker wins, by a nose.
Roost Records original labels. Sadly there are no Roost LPs in my collection, I guess they rarely made it across the pond as their recordings were licensed for UK release and re-mastered locally, so I don’t know how the original might sound. Any roosters out there are welcome to opine.
Liner Notes for Decca, by jazz critic Alun Morgan.
ALUN MORGAN on Parker, including references to Parker’s Steeplechase cited above in the Sonny Stitt liner notes, in the final paragraphs:
Bonus Track: Sonny Stitt – Body and Soul
Zen and The Art of Valuing Records
Some occasional money matters. By a strange coincidence Stitt with the New Yorkers on Vogue just recently closed at auction from a well known UK seller, at an eye-watering final price for this record.
This UK seller has attracted considerable attention through sourcing hard-to-find collectible jazz records, all credit to them. The thing with auctions, it only takes one or two bidders to push prices into the stratosphere. The great majority of the bids came from just one bidder, who it seems had decided this record belonged to him, and paid the price.
That auction was only a little over a week ago, but has already made it into the Popsike database. The auction result sits uncomfortably at the top of the range for this record. The original Roost has only once reached this dizzy height, the UK vogue has never fetched more than £27 GBP. The accompanying photograph looks posed in a remarkably similar fashion to an auction of October 20, 2013, when it closed at £20 GBP, almost exactly two years ago. Spooky, in the approach to Halloween..
People sometimes ask my advice what a particular record “is worth”. There is no right price, only what someone is willing to pay for it, and I have no idea what that is in any particular auction. I know what it is worth to me, with Samurai precision, so I am rarely disappointed with an auction result. My copy was around middle of the pack, from a bricks and mortar store. I figure the winner paid considerably more than I would expect, but the market is the final arbiter. That is what it was worth to someone.
Sonny Stitt recorded prolifically over his long career and much of his later material of lesser account. In his ascendancy, however, Stitt’s grasp of the alto was almost without peer, aside from Parker, and is welcome on my turntable any time. Though not at any price. That privilege is reserved for Hank Mobley.