We start the week here in June with some Summer music. However, before we get into it, let me just give a huge shout out to all the folks that came and supported on Friday night at the Ace Hotel in NYC. The marathon 6 hour set I did, managing to throw in everything from Pete Rock to Fela Kuti to Gangstarr, to a cover of this original song. I am a huge fan of every version of this song, so why not throw in a Jazz take of it as well? Here’s Sonny Stitt with a cover version of “California Soul” from the Solid State Lp Come Hither from 1969.
Edward “Sonny” Stitt was born Boston, MA in 1924 but grew up in in Saginaw, Michigan. The son in a family of musical talent: his father was a music professor, his mother a piano teacher, and his brother was a classically trained pianist, so you could say Stitt had a leg up on the others just starting out. Called “the greatest disciple” of Charlie Parker, Stitt first played with Stan Getz and Dizzie, and would go on to later replace Parker in Dizzie’s band. Why not, as both musician’s sounds were similar (maybe one imitated another or vice versa), and throughout his career, Stitt played both Alto and Tenor saxophones. He continued to work with greats like Bud Powell, Gene Ammons, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Oscar Peterson, Booker Irwin, Miles Davis among others. Unfortunately, due to his drinking habits, and I find this hard to believe, he was fired and replaced by Miles with Hank Mobley. Now Miles was using in the early 50’s, introduced to heroin allegedly by Gene Ammons (supposedly), so it’s tough to believe that Stitt was that out of control. Ammons did have his own struggles with narcotics, as did many other Jazz players, so Stitt’s drinking may or may not be a surprise to you. His Hard Bop/ Be Bop style sometimes moved to Swing, then ventured into Soul Jazz, sometimes Latin, but his records with Ammons are often considered to be some of his best work. Later on his career he joined the Giants of Jazz group that featured such luminaries such as Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon. Stitt has recorded on Impulse, Atlantic, Roulette, Solid State, Verve, Argo, Muse, MCA, Roost, and Prestige. One of the first musicians to champion the varitone (or electric) sax, he, unfortunately would die of a heart attack in 1982.
Now it’s no secret I dig this tune. Whether it’s Marlena Shaw’s version (or Diplo’s remix of that version), Gerald Wilson, The Messengers, The 5th Dimension, Tamba 4, or the Ashford and Simpson original, it’s all good. Sonny Stitt’s version is really great. Upbeat and sunny for a perfect kickoff to the season. Surrounding himself with players like Billy Butler on the guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass, Joe Marshall on drums, and Paul Griffin on organ (let’s not forget a horn section of Jerome Richardson and Joe De Angelis), this often overlooked Soul Jazz version of this tune cooks. Enjoy, and who knows, maybe I’ll drop it at the Ace next week. Keep Diggin’!
Looks like my man Slice from Slice-of-Spice has the full length for download over here.
Bill Cosby on drumming with Sonny Stitt on Dick Cavett