Alto saxophonist William "Sonny" Criss
was an anomaly of the jazz musicians who came up during the bebop era. Criss
moved to Los Angeles from Memphis at the age of 15, and at 19 played in Howard McGhee
's band with Charlie Parker
and Teddy Edwards
. As was the norm for every alto player, Parker
exerted a huge influence on Criss
' playing. His beefy, earthy tone can be heard on a number of Savoy sessions beginning the next year. Criss
drifted, playing in jazz and R&B groups, including those led by Johnny Otis
, Billy Eckstine
, and Stan Kenton
. After joining Buddy Rich
in 1956, Criss
recorded Jazz U.S.A.
for Imperial as a leader; it's one of the true underground classics of the hard bop era. Imperial -- mainly an R&B label specializing in New Orleans acts such as Fats Domino
-- put no promotional push behind it. Nonetheless, he was able to cut two more sessions for the label: the excellent Go Man!
and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter
. Still playing with Rich
cut At the Crossroads
while on tour in Chicago for the Peacock label; the set featured Wynton Kelly
and was critically well received. The saxophonist continued to work, fronting his own band in Los Angeles and gigging with others for brief out-of-town jaunts. He signed with Prestige in 1965 and issued a host of fine recordings, This Is Criss!
and Sonny's Dream
among them. Criss
also cut various sessions for Xanadu, Muse, and ABC/Impulse near the end of his life. He committed suicide in 1977 due to the painful consequences of stomach cancer. His fine Crisscraft
and Out of Nowhere
albums were reissued on CDs, as were his complete Imperial recordings.