Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt


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Back when I was a kid, I lived an hour north of New York City in the country. It wasn't my choice. My parents moved there from Manhattan in 1969 for the space and the public schools. As artists, they couldn't afford private-school tuitions in New York for me or my brother, and the public schools there were coming apart.

But living in what was then a rural area didn't deter me from hopping a train to New York at age 14 to shop for jazz records. My parents didn't mind. They figured it was the least they could do. Besides, they had hitchhiked all over Europe in the late '40s, and taking a train hardly seemed like an issue.

All of my allowance money went toward records, with occasional billfold help from my mom and dad. I loved charting my record-store path in Manhattan in advance of my trips and once there impressing store clerks with my knowledge of what and who were playing. I would spend hours just looking at the covers and listening to conversations between buyers and staff.

As a result of my fearless trips, my country friends began to ask me to buy LPs for them. The inventory at mall record stores was thin—veering toward Al Hirt, Mitch Miller and Jack Jones. Pleas, requests and cash began flowing toward me on Fridays for albums by Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead. 

The problem is I couldn't carry everything that everyone wanted. I was buying LPs for me, so the best I could manage was another five or so records. Most friends understood this and complied with my one-LP rule. But one creative Creedence Clearwater Revival fan sweetened the deal. If I brought back three on his list, he'd not only pay me for the albums but would provide me with a bonus.

The incentive wasn't cash, which was in tight supply all around. Instead, he began wiping out his parents' jazz collection. They didn't listen to them anymore anyway, he insisted. With this vinyl carrot dangling, I began lugging back his albums, and in exchange I wound up with great jazz albums from the '50s and early '60s—Basie, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker on Clef, Lester Young and so on.

Among the booty was The Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt, which I fell in love with the moment I put it on. After a few listens, I put the Verve disc in a special paper sleeve and added a plastic cover to the glossy jacket, just like I had seen in the used- record stores. I also cleaned the disc meticulously after each play.

The album was recorded in 1961 and features Stitt on alto and tenor saxophones framed beautifully by strings arranged by Ralph Burns [pictured]. The song choices were impeccable. Tunes like Back in My Home Town, Time After Time and Once in a While were given the silky but smart shimmering Burns touch. 

The problem in the 80s and beyond was that the album was never issued digitally—except in Japan, where a Verve CD existed for a small fortune, since it had gone out of print there, too. As a result, the album is virtually unkown to most people.

Sorry for taking so long to tell you the news: The Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt is finally available at iTunes and here. Go sample the tracks. It's irresistible. Best of all, you don't have pick up extra LPs for friends just to hear it.

JazzWax clip: “Yeah, yeah, yeah," you say, “Stitt with strings, big deal." Oh really? Here's Once in a While from The Sensual Sound of Sonny Stitt. Dig the Burns intro and orchestration...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.


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