PH.D. DISSERTATION ABSTRACT
of “Practitioner and Prophet: An Analysis of Sonny Stitt’s Music and Relationship to Charlie Parker”
Saxophonist Sonny Stitt (1924–1982) was a major jazz artist with a long performing and recording career. Throughout this career, Stitt was compared by music critics to his slightly older contemporary, alto saxophonist and bebop pioneer Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Critics accused Stitt of imitating Parker by consciously adopting elements of Parker’s musical style. Over time, the critics’ view of Stitt as a Parker imitator calcified into an intractable critical consensus. It remains the prevailing perception of Stitt and his work today.
In interviews with critics, Stitt spoke of his admiration for Parker, but disputed his reputation as a Parker copyist. Many musicians agreed with Stitt, noting Stitt’s similarity to Parker but defending him from the charge of blatant copying. Some jazz writers also bucked the critical consensus, arguing that Stitt was not a Parker copyist but rather a talented bebop practitioner with his own style.
Despite its ubiquity in the Stitt literature, Stitt’s reputation as a Parker imitator has yet to be the subject of sustained academic attention. This study investigates, through historical and musical analysis, whether Stitt’s critical reputation as a Parker imitator is justified. The study contains analysis of the jazz literature pertaining to Stitt’s music and career. It contains analysis of published statements about Stitt and Parker by critics, musicians, and Stitt himself. Finally, the study contains a comparative musical analysis of improvised solos recorded by Stitt and Parker between 1944 and 1963.