August 14, 2005
Delmark DD 563
Back in the days when there were working group and a jazz night club circuit saxophonist Sonny Stitt (1924-1982) was constantly on the road and constantly recording. The epitome of the journeyman player Boston-born Stitt seemed to make LPs the way others eat hamburgers — compulsively. From his earliest session in 1946 until a few weeks before his death the saxman was always up for another session. The dates could be all-star challenges with the likes of trumpeter Dizzy Gilllespie or pianist Oscar Peterson, two-tenor duels with his longtime partners Gene Ammons or relaxed pick-up like this one from 1969.
When he recorded as the sole horn, Stitts backup was invariably a piano-bass-drum bebop trio or a soul-jazz organ combo. Here the controlled, spot on rhythm comes courtesy of little-known drummer Billy Pierce possibly a local Chicagoan while the constant bass line and all the cushioning accompaniment is from Don Patterson (1936-1988). A Columbus, Ohio-native, known as Stitts favorite organist, he also worked with other funky saxmen like Ammons and Eddie Lockjaw Davis and you can see why.
Each of the 10 short only Just Friends brushes five minutes blues and ballads performed here is kept on an even keel. A former pianist, his note placement is near perfect and he doesnt clutter the tracks with flamboyant crescendos or expansive tremolos. At the same time his playing is passionate and gritty enough that you can see how Stitts trios could play the chitlin circuit as easily as the prestige jazz clubs.
In the 150s and 1960s, the non-star sidemen worked overtime to make the soloist sound good, and here Pierce wonder if its really Stitts longtime drummer Billy James under a pseudonym? and Patterson lay back enough to let the saxophonist do what he does best on either alto or tenor saxophone. Old school in this context, Stitt rings every last ounce of passion out of the ballads like Body and Soul and Just Friends and turns stands like Green Dolphin Street into light-toned danceable numbers, with extended no-note-out-of-place cadences, but without any touches of fake funkiness.
Key to professionalism is knowing yourself and your audience. Stitt, as you note on warhorses such as They Cant Take That Away From Me and How High The Moon always lets you hear the foot-tapping melody and never lets his solo variations get involved in what he would have termed far out playing. The only sound experimentation on show is his use of the electrical Varitone to add extra notes when he soloed. Its obvious on a tune like Getting Sentimental Over You, but here and elsewhere it doesnt interfere with the flow of his ideas or the performance.
Stitts recorded work runs to over 100 LPs and this slightly less than 40 minute disc is neither a major artistic statement nor a throw away. For Stitt it was probably just another gig. But considering he and Patterson arent creating anything else right now, its an artful souvenir of straight-ahead jazz masters in action.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Four 2. On Green Dolphin Street 3. Parkers Mood 4. How High The Moon 5. Shake Your Head 6. Its Magic 7. Getting Sentimental Over You 8. Just Friends 9. Body and Soul 10. They Cant Take That Away From Me
Personnel: Sonny Stitt (alto and tenor saxophones); Don Patterson (organ); Billy Pierce (drums)