Feb 21, 2004 Features
Sonny Stitt, The Complete Roost Sonny Stitt Studio Sessions, Mosaic Records MD9-208
By Al Perlman
I am an unabashed fan of Mosaic records. No company does a better job mining and repackaging the treasures of recorded jazz. From Mosaic’s beginnings in 1983 the company has focused on producing comprehensive boxed sets that document periods or styles of music from either specific artists or record labels. From the comprehensive liner notes to the annotated discographies to the intricate remastering of the original recordings, each set is a gem.
What I also appreciate as a Jazz Collector is that the Mosaic releases have always represented a great investment: The company produces limited editions of all its releases (with one or two exceptions) and once the designated number of copies are sold, that’s it, no more are released. This has created a strong resellers market for Mosaic sets, particularly those that are no longer in print. If you peruse eBay you’ll see that almost every out-of-print Mosaic set sells for a fairly strong premium over its original purchase price. My only complaint with Mosaic is they stopped issuing their sets on vinyl a couple of years ago. For new sets, such as this one, only CD formats are available.
I was particularly enthused when I heard that Mosaic was releasing this set of recordings by Sonny Stitt, one of my all-time favorite musicians. Stitt was a master of both the tenor and alto saxophones who never seemed to get his due for a variety of reasons: He was unfairly dismissed on alto as merely a mimic of Charlie Parker; he recorded prolifically, sometimes not always at his best or most inspired; he was not viewed as a pioneer or creator of a specific style in the manner of a Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane or even a Cannonball Adderley. Still, he was a brilliant musician whose technique, tone and musicality were equal to anyone who has ever played jazz.
This 9-CD set provides ample evidence of Stitt’s brilliance. It covers the period from 1952 to 1965 and shows off Stitt’s talents in a variety of formats: From large ensembles let by Quincy Jones and Johnny Richards to an all-Latin set to a series of small group recordings that are among the best that Stitt produced in his life. My personal favorites are the series of quartet recordings released in the late 1950s under the original titles “37 Minutes + 48 Seconds with Sonny Stitt” and “Sonny Stitt With The New Yorkers.” When you listen to these recordings you wonder how anyone could fail to recognize Stitt’s incredible prowess.
What’s most surprising about the boxed set is not Stitt’s strength on these particular albums, but the overall quality of the full 13-year period covered by the set. I had expected some performances to be lacking inspiration, but that is not really the case here. From the first session with Johnny Richards to the last quartet recording in 1965, the level of playing and strength of material remain strong throughout.
As I’ve come to expect with Mosaic, the packaging is outstanding. Zan Stewart does a fine job on the liner notes, talking about some of the reasons for Stitt’s lack of wider recognition – focusing particularly on the comparisons with Bird – and giving detailed notes on each of the recordings. In addition, there’s a brief history of Roost records and its co-founder Teddy Reig. The recordings themselves have been beautifully remastered by Malcom Addey and the sound compares favorably to that which you’ll find on the original LP releases. In addition to the material originally released on LPs, there are 15 tracks that have never been released in any format.
All in all, this is a great set. I highly recommend it to any Stitt fan, even if you have all the records in their original LP format. For Jazz Collectors in general it’s hard to go wrong with any Mosaic set, in terms of the music, the history and the potential investment. Now, if Mosaic can get its hands on Stitt’s catalogue from Verve, that would be another treat indeed.