In honor of the upcoming listening party at Baby's On Fire, this week's featured album art is a Sonny Stitt cover. On Prestige 7244, Stitt Meets Brother Jack (1962), Don Schlitten is given both photography and design credits. Schlitten is most often discussed in jazz history as a producer, record label founder, and otherwise jazz industry entrepreneur.
Don Schlitten (b. 1932)
Schlitten's professional odyssey included work with Signal Records (co-founder), Prestige Records (producer), Cobblestone Records (co-founder), Muse Records, Onyx Records, and Xanadu Records (founder). For Prestige 7244, Stitt Meets Brother Jack (1962), Schlitten situates Sonny Stitt mid-note and focused-gaze awash in a field of salmon complemented by gold and white type. What is perhaps most interesting about this cover is the the fact that Schlitten got another chance at designing the album. Prestige 7452, 'Nuther Fu'ther (1966), was a reissue of the same material as Prestige 7244, with the same liner notes by Robert Levin on the back of each version. However, the album's cover design was also changed; here Sonny Stitt poses cooly behind a pair of shades, though we feel still looking directly at us; rather than mid-note, here he has yet to wail on his saxophone, off to his left side. And yet Don Schlitten, the consummate businessman as well as artist, relied on a strategy he knew to have worked before– using his own striking photography in a beautiful color tint with complementary type.
Sonny Stitt (1924-82)
Stitt worked with Schlitten throughout many of the latter's different labels, which is fitting considering that both men were committed to straight ahead bebop throughout their careers. The primary criticism of Stitt was that he was never able to fully emerge from Charlie Parker's shadow. And yet his straight ahead style was addressed if not promoted directly on the album's liner notes:
"I don't like strange music," Sonny Stitt told Down Beat several years ago. "I'm not on Cloud Nine. Music should be a flowing, melodic thing. I think you should always be around the basic melody. Improvise, but stick to the basic melody. Bird was always eighty-five to ninety percent around the melody."
Indeed Levin's notes go on to mention the comparison to Bird, but Stitt is responsible for composing many of the tracks on the album, and he is accompanied by a soulful and energetic ensemble that includes Jack McDuff on the organ; Eddie Diehl on guitar; Art Taylor on drums; Ray Barretto on conga; and together they create a unique albeit steady sound.
Sonny Stitt is surely an underrated jazz great and both aesthetic treatments by Schlitten here are fitting portrayals of his cool character.