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Damon Rentie / Blog

"Sonny Stitt" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time salute v8

Edward Boatner was born in Boston, Massachusetts[1] and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. He had a musical background; his father, Edward Boatner, was a baritone singer, composer and college music professor, his brother was a classically trained pianist, and his mother was a piano teacher.[1] Boatner was soon adopted by another family, the Stitts, who gave him his new surname. He later began calling himself "Sonny". In 1943, Stitt first met Charlie Parker, and as he often later recalled, the two men found that their styles had an extraordinary similarity that was partly coincidental and not merely due to Stitt's emulation. Stitt's improvisations were more melodic/less dissonant than those of Parker. Stitt's earliest recordings were made in 1945 with Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. He had also played in some swing bands, though he mainly played in bop bands. Stitt was featured in Tiny Bradshaw's big band in the early forties. Stitt replaced Charlie Parker in Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1945.[2] Stitt played alto saxophone in Billy Eckstine's big band alongside future bop pioneers Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons from 1945 until 1956, when he started to play tenor saxophone more frequently, in order to avoid being referred to as a Charlie Parker imitator. Later on, he played with Gene Ammons and Bud Powell. Stitt spent time in a Lexington prison between 1948–49 for selling narcotics. Stitt, when playing tenor saxophone, seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was imitating Charlie Parker's style, although it appears in the instance with Ammons above that the availability of the larger instrument was a factor. Indeed, Stitt began to develop a far more distinctive sound on tenor.[1] He played withBud Powell and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, a fellow tenor with a distinctly tough tone in comparison to Stitt, in the 1950s and recorded a number of sides for Prestige Records label as well as albums for Argo, Verve and Roost. Stitt experimented with Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1950s, and the results can be heard on his recordings for Roost and Verve, on which he teamed up with Thad Jones and Chick Corea for Latin versions of such standards as "Autumn Leaves." Stitt joined Miles Davis briefly in 1960, and recordings with Davis' quintet can be found only in live settings on the tour of 1960. Concerts in Manchester and Paris are available commercially and also a number of concerts (which include sets by the earlier quintet with John Coltrane) on the record Live at Stockholm (Dragon), all of which featured Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. However, Miles fired Stitt due to the excessive drinking habit he had developed, and replaced him with fellow tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Stitt, later in the 1960s, paid homage to one of his main influences, Charlie Parker He recorded a number of memorable records with his friend and fellow saxophonist Gene Ammons, interrupted by Ammons' own imprisonment for narcotics possession. The records recorded by these two saxophonists are regarded by many as some of both Ammons and Stitt's best work, thus the Ammons/Stitt partnership went down in posterity as one of the best duelling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Stitt would venture into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in 1964 on the Soul People album. Stitt also recorded with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves in 1963 for Impulse! on the Salt And Pepper album in 1963. Around that time he also appeared regularly at Ronnie Scott's in London, a live 1964 encounter with Ronnie Scott, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, eventually surfaced, and another in 1966 with resident guitarist Ernest Ranglin and British tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. Stitt was one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with an electric saxophone (the instrument was called a Varitone), as heard on the albums What's New in 1966 and Parallel-A-Stitt in 1967.

"Grover Washington, Jr" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time salute v7.

Grover Washington, Jr. (December 12, 1943 - December 17, 1999)[1] was an American jazz-funk / soul-jazz saxophonist. Along with George Benson, John Klemmer, David Sanborn, Bob James, Chuck Mangione, Herb Alpert, and Spyro Gyra, he is considered by many to be one of the founders of the smooth jazz genre.[citation needed] He wrote some of his material and later became an arranger and producer. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Washington made some of the genre's most memorable hits, including "Mister Magic," "Reed Seed," "Black Frost," "Winelight," "Inner City Blues" and "The Best is Yet to Come". In addition, he performed very frequently with other artists, including Bill Withers on "Just the Two of Us" (still in regular rotation on radio today), Patti LaBelle on "The Best Is Yet to Come" and Phyllis Hyman on "A Sacred Kind of Love". He is also remembered for his take on the Dave Brubeck classic "Take Five", and for his 1996 version of "Soulful Strut". Washington had a preference for black nickel-plated saxophones made by Julius Keilwerth. These included a SX90R alto and SX90R tenor. He also played Selmer Mark VI alto in the early years. His main soprano was a black nickel plated H.Couf Superba II (also built by Keilwerth for Herbert Couf) and a Keilwerth SX90 in the last years of his life.

"Charlie Parker" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time salute v6

One of a handful of musicians who can be said to have permanently changed jazz, Charlie Parker was arguably the greatest saxophonist of all time. He could play remarkably fast lines that, if slowed down to half speed, would reveal that every note made sense. "Bird," along with his contemporaries Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, is considered a founder of bebop; in reality he was an intuitive player who simply was expressing himself. Rather than basing his improvisations closely on the melody as was done in swing, he was a master of chordal improvising, creating new melodies that were based on the structure of a song. In fact, Bird wrote several future standards (such as "Anthropology," "Ornithology," "Scrapple from the Apple," and "Ko Ko," along with such blues numbers as "Now's the Time" and "Parker's Mood") that "borrowed" and modernized the chord structures of older tunes. Parker's remarkable technique, fairly original sound, and ability to come up with harmonically advanced phrases that could be both logical and whimsical were highly influential. By 1950, it was impossible to play "modern jazz" with credibility without closely studying Charlie Parker. Born in Kansas City, KS, Charlie Parker grew up in Kansas City, MO. He first played baritone horn before switching to alto. Parker was so enamored of the rich Kansas City music scene that he dropped out of school when he was 14, even though his musicianship at that point was questionable (with his ideas coming out faster than his fingers could play them). After a few humiliations at jam sessions, Bird worked hard woodshedding over one summer, building up his technique and mastery of the fundamentals. By 1937, when he first joined Jay McShann's Orchestra, he was already a long way toward becoming a major player.

"Sonny Rollins" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time salute v5

Although Rollins was born in New York City, his parents were born in the United States Virgin Islands.[2] Rollins received his first saxophone at age 13. He attended Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem. He said that a concert by Frank Sinatra there, accompanied by a plea for racial harmony, changed his life.[3][4][5] Rollins started as a pianist, changed to alto saxophone, and finally switched to tenor in 1946. During his high-school years, he played in a band with other future jazz legends Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew and Art Taylor. He was first recorded in 1949 with Babs Gonzales ( J. J. Johnson was the arranger of the group). In his recordings through 1954, he played with performers such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.[6] In 1950, Rollins was arrested for armed robbery and given a sentence of three years. He spent 10 months in Rikers Island jail before he was released on parole. In 1952 he was arrested for violating the terms of his parole by using heroin.[citation needed] Rollins was assigned to the Federal Medical Center, Lexington, at the time the only assistance in the U.S. for drug addicts. While there he was a volunteer for then-experimental methadone therapy and was able to break his heroin habit.[citation needed] Rollins himself initially feared sobriety would impair his musicianship, but then went on to greater success. As a saxophonist he had initially been attracted to the jump and R&B sounds of performers like Louis Jordan, but soon became drawn into the mainstream tenor saxophone tradition. Joachim Berendt has described this tradition as sitting between the two poles of the strong sonority of Coleman Hawkins and the light flexible phrasing of Lester Young, which did so much to inspire the fleet improvisation of bebop in the 1950s.[7] Rollins began to make a name for himself in 1949 as he recorded with J. J. Johnson and Bud Powell what would later be called "hard bop", with Miles Davis in 1951, with the Modern Jazz Quartet and with Thelonious Monk in 1953, but the breakthrough arrived in 1954 when he recorded his famous compositions "Oleo" "Airegin" and "Doxy" with a quintet led by Davis. Rollins then joined the Miles Davis Quintet in the summer of 1955, but left after a short stay to deal with his drug problems.[8][9] Rollins was invited later in 1955 to join the Clifford Brown–Max Roach quintet; studio recordings documenting his time in the band are the albums Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street and Sonny Rollins Plus 4. After Brown's death in 1956 Rollins began his subsequent career as a leader, his first long-playing albums released on Prestige Records. He also recorded during the 1950s for Blue Note, Riverside, and the Los Angeles label Contemporary.

"John Coitrane" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time salute v4

ohn William Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina. At the age of three his family moved to High Point, NC, where young Coltrane spent his early years. His father, John Robert Coltrane, died in 1939, leaving twelve year-old John and his mother on their own. His mother, Alice Blair Coltrane, moved to New Jersey to work as a domestic while John completed high school. John played first the clarinet, then alto saxophone in his high school band. His first musical influence was the tenor saxophonist Lester Young of Count Basie's band. In June of 1943, after graduation, Coltrane moved to Philadelphia to be closer to his mother. After a yearlong stint in the Navy (1945-46), Coltrane began playing gigs in and around Philadelphia. During this time he became involved in drug and alcohol use, vices that would follow him throughout his career and ultimately lead to his death. In late 1949 Coltrane was invited to play alto sax with Dizzy Gillespie's band; the first recording session was on November 21 of that year. When the big band broke up in May of 1950 Coltrane moved to the tenor saxophone and played with Gillespie's small band until May of the next year. Coltrane played with Earl Bostic's group in 1952, switching to the band of his early idol Johnny Hodges in 1953. Problems with drug and alcohol abuse, however, forced Coltrane out of the group in 1954.

Miles Davis called upon Coltrane in the summer of 1955 to join a group he was forming. The Miles Davis quintet's first recording was made in October of 1955, the same month in which Coltrane was married to Naima Grubbs. The quintet was comprised of Davis on trumpet, Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the drums. It was in his years with this quintet that Coltrane's abilities were truly recognized and appreciated. In April 1957, though, Coltrane was again forced to take a break from playing to deal with his substance abuse problems; Davis replaced him with Sonny Rollins. He played briefly with Thelonious Monk in late 1957 before rejoining the Miles Davis quintet in January 1958. Coltrane played with this group until April 1960, when he set out to form his own group.

The John Coltrane quartet first formed in April of 1960 with Coltrane playing tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyler on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Harrison on bass. It was during the first years of this group that Coltrane graduated from an above-average tenor saxophonist to an elite bandleader, composer, and improvisor. “My Favorite Things”, the epic album featuring “Every Time We Say Goodbye”, “Summertime”, “But Not For Me”, and the title track, was recorded in 1960. This was undoubtedly Coltrane's most successful and popular album, and granted him the commercial success that had eluded him thus far in his career. Perhaps due to this success, Coltrane's approach to his music began to shift during 1961-62, moving towards a more experimental, improvisational style. This “free-jazz” alienated many of the fans Coltrane had collected after “My Favorite Things”, but at the same time expanded the horizons and definition of jazz. Among the more popular recordings of the quartet in the following years were “Africa Brass” (1961), “Ballads” (1962), “A Love Supreme” (1964), and “Meditations” (1965), as well as concerts recorded at The Village Vanguard (NYC) in 1961 and at Birdland, also in New York, in 1963. Coltrane's continuing desire to break new boundaries with his music, though, led to the end of the group in January 1966.

"Michael Brecker" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our time Salute v3

Michael Brecker, Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Cheltenham Township, a local suburb, Michael Brecker was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist. He grew up a part of the generation of jazz musicians, who saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option. Brecker began studying clarinet, then moved to alto saxophone in school, eventually settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. He graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1967 and after only a year at Indiana University, Michael Brecker moved to New York City in 1969, where he carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist. He first made his mark at age 21 as a member of the jazz-rock band Dreams—a band, that included his older brother Randy, trombonist Barry Rogers, drummer Billy Cobham, Jeff Kent and Doug Lubahn. Dreams was short-lived, lasting only a year, but Miles Davis was seen at some gigs prior to his recording Jack Johnson.[5] Most of Brecker's early work is marked by an approach informed as much by rock guitar as by R&B saxophone. After Dreams, he worked with Horace Silver and then Billy Cobham before once again teaming up with his brother Randy to form the Brecker Brothers. The band followed jazz-rock trends of the time, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence. The band stayed together from 1975 to 1982 with consistent success and musicality. During his career, he was in great demand as a soloist and sideman. He performed with bands, which spanned from mainstream jazz to mainstream rock. Altogether, he appeared on over 700 albums, either as a band member or a guest soloist. While performing at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in 2004, Brecker experienced a sharp pain in his back. Shortly thereafter in 2005, he was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Despite a widely publicized worldwide search, Brecker was unable to find a matching stem cell donor. In late 2005, he was the recipient of an experimental partial matching stem cell transplant. By late 2006, he appeared to be recovering, but the experiment proved not to be a cure. He made his final public performance on June 23, 2006, playing with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall. On January 13, 2007, Michael Brecker died from complications of leukemia in New York City. His funeral was held on January 15, 2007 in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. On February 11, 2007, Michael Brecker was awarded two posthumous Grammy awards for his involvement on his brother Randy's 2005 album Some Skunk Funk. During his career, Brecker played a Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone using a customized Dave Guardala mouthpiece. Early in his career, he had played a Selmer Super Balanced Action saxophone. His earlier mouthpieces included a metal Dukoff (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) and a metal Otto Link (in the mid-1970s). In the summer of 2004, Brecker was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), an early form of leukemia. In need of a bone marrow transplant to save his life, Brecker searched in the International Bone Marrow Registry for a match. This prompted Michael’s wife and manager to organize a series of bone marrow drives throughout the world, including the Red Sea, Monterey, and Newport Jazz Festivals. By going public with his illness, Brecker raised tens of thousands of dollars for testing, and signed up many thousands of donors, but was unable to find a match for himself. "More to Live For" documents Brecker's intense battle with leukemia, and the production of his final recording, "Pilgrimage".

"Stanley Turrentine" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our Time Salute v2

A legend of the tenor saxophone, Stanley Turrentine was renowned for his distinctively thick, rippling tone, an earthy grounding in the blues, and his ability to work a groove with soul and imagination. Turrentine recorded in a wide variety of settings, but was best-known for his Blue Note soul-jazz jams of the '60s, and also underwent a popular fusion makeover in the early '70s. Born in Pittsburgh on April 5, 1934, Turrentine began his career playing with various blues and R&B bands, with a strong influence from Illinois Jacquet. He played in Lowell Fulson's band with Ray Charles from 1950-1951, and in 1953, he replaced John Coltrane in Earl Bostic's early R&B/jazz band. After a mid-'50s stint in the military, Turrentine joined Max Roach's band and subsequently met organist Shirley Scott, whom he married in 1960 and would record with frequently.

Upon moving to Philadelphia, Turrentine struck up a chemistry with another organist, Jimmy Smith, appearing on Smith's 1960 classics Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special, among others. Also in 1960, Turrentine began recording as a leader for Blue Note, concentrating chiefly on small-group soul-jazz on classics like That's Where It's At, but also working with the Three Sounds (on 1961's Blue Hour) and experimenting with larger ensemble settings in the mid-'60s. As the '70s dawned, Turrentine and Scott divorced and Turrentine became a popular linchpin of Creed Taylor's new, fusion-oriented CTI label; he recorded five albums, highlighted by Sugar, Salt Song, and Don't Mess With Mister T. While those commercially accessible efforts were artistically rewarding as well, critical opinion wasn't as kind to his late-'70s work for Fantasy; still, Turrentine continued to record prolifically, and returned to his trademark soul-jazz in the '80s and '90s. Turrentine passed away on September 12, 2000, following a massive stroke.

"Rahsaan Roland Kirk" Damon's Greatest Saxophonist of our Time Salute.v1

Kirk was born Ronald Theodore Kirk[2] in Columbus, Ohio, but felt compelled by a dream to transpose two letters in his first name to make Roland. He became blind at an early age as a result of poor medical treatment. In 1970, Kirk added "Rahsaan" to his name after hearing it in a dream. Preferring to lead his own bands, Kirk rarely performed as a sideman, although he did record with arranger Quincy Jones and drummer Roy Haynes and had notable stints with bassist Charles Mingus. One of his best-known recorded performances is the lead flute and solo on Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova", a 1964 hit song repopularized in the Austin Powers films (Jones 1964; McLeod et al. 1997). His playing was generally rooted in soul jazz or hard bop, but Kirk's knowledge of jazz history allowed him to draw on many elements of the music's past, from ragtime to swing and free jazz. Kirk also absorbed classical influences, and his artistry reflected elements of pop music by composers such as Smokey Robinson and Burt Bacharach, as well as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and other jazz musicians. The live album Bright Moments (1973) is an example of one of his shows. His main instrument was the tenor saxophone, supplemented by other saxes, and contrasted with the lighter sound of the flute. At times he would play a number of these horns at once, harmonizing with himself, or sustain a note for lengthy durations by using circular breathing, or play the rare, seldom heard nose flute. A number of his instruments were exotic or homemade, but even while playing two or three saxophones at once, the music was intricate, powerful jazz with a strong feel for the blues. Kirk was politically outspoken. During his concerts, between songs he often talked about topical issues, including black history and the civil rights movement. His monologues were often laced with satire and absurdist humor. In 1975, Kirk suffered a major stroke which led to partial paralysis of one side of his body. However, he continued to perform and record, modifying his instruments to enable him to play with one arm. At a live performance at Ronnie Scott's club in London he even managed to play two instruments, and carried on to tour internationally and even appear on television. He died from a second stroke in 1977 after performing in the Frangipani Room of the Indiana University Student Union in Bloomington, Indiana.

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