This solo by Sonny Stitt comes from the great 1957 album Sonny Side Up
, featuring Stitt and Sonny Rollins on tenor saxes, led by Dizzy Gillespie. All three horn players are in top form constantly pushing each other to new heights. The whole album is an amazing lesson in bebop. Stitt’s solo on the first song, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” sets the pace for the rest of the album with his soulful touch and quick double time playing.
First, let me begin by talking through the harmony of this song. It is a fairly simple 32 bar AABA form in C major. The A section consists of an 8 bar phrase that eventually moves to the VI (Am7) and then returns to the tonic. The E7 in bar two is out of the key by one note, its major third, g sharp. This note acts as a leading tone to the third (a) of the F major 7 in the next bar. Bar 4 contains a ii V progression that tonicizes the VI chord (Am7) in the key of C major. The D7 in bar 6 and the Am7 before it act as the ii V of the V chord (G7) in C major. Bar 7 contains the ii V that returns the progression to the tonic, C. In the first A section, bar 8 uses a III VI II V turnaround to land on the C major that begins the second A section. The bridge essentially consists of three ii V’s. The first is in F major, the second modulates up a whole step to G major, but instead of landing on the G like it did the F, the third ii V comes in leading to the C major that begins the last A section.Stitt begins his solo by playing entirely within the key of C for the first 5 bars. As these first chords are all in that key, it allows him to develop a melodic idea over a straightforward harmony. However, in bar 6 the D7 changes the key center slightly and f natural becomes an f sharp. Stitt follows the harmony here with a scalar run in D mixolydian. Sitt handles the following ii V with a standard chromatic run using two of the most common tension notes, the minor third (e flat) and flat five (g flat). On the turnaround in bar 8, he bases his line almost exclusively on the arpeggios of the chord beginning after the Em7 on the third of the A7 and going down a Dmaj7 arpeggio ending with a leading tone to the Dm7 which he starts on the root, then moves to G7 starting on the third and ending on the nine (b, d, f, a) and then to a C major 7 arpeggio also beginning on the third. Each of these arpeggios uses a leading tone down a half step from its first note.
Stitt treats the E7 in bar 10 almost like a ii V leading to Am7 (Bm7b5, E7). First, he plays a lick that ends in a chromatic walk up to the b outlining it from a half-step above. Then he plays an E7 arpeggio (g#, b, d) ending on the e after outlining it in half-steps above and below. In bar 12 where the actual ii V to Am7 is, he simply plays an E7 arpeggio (e, g#, b, d). He mostly disregards the D7 instead beginning a Dm7 arpeggio descending form the 7 (c, a, f, d) and then ends the A section on the c.
The bridge, he takes double time first tonicizing the Gm7 by incorporating the leading tone f sharp and a D arpeggio. He moves to the C7 by walking up to its major third and continuing up the C mixolydian scale (same as F major). He arrives on the F major by way of its flat sixth, d flat. He then begins a pattern on an f major arpeggio taking each note, f, a, c, f, a, and approaching it by its immediate upper note in the scale and its leading tone beneath. He ends this pattern with another interesting patter based on the F major triad. Over the Am7, he uses a pattern that emphasizes a line walking chromatically down to the third of the D7, (a, g#, g, f#). In bar 24 over the G7 he creates tension before resolving to the C by using two notes from the G7 altered scale, (a flat, b flat). The most distinctive feature of the last A section comes in bars 27 and 28 where Stitt plays a straight F maj7 arpeggio down and up and continues that to the ninth (g) and then to what would be the minor third (a flat) of the F major but has now become the leading tone to the Am7 chord.
I hope you enjoyed my transcription and analysis of Stitt’s solo. This is a great bebop solo that follows the chord changes in a relatively understandable way and is great to get a grasp on many important concepts in jazz improvisation. I’ll try to get the Sonny Rollins solo on this song up soon. His interpretation is a good contrast to Stitt’s and he takes a more abstract approach to the harmony.