Canadian alto saxophonist Dylan Cramer found music at a transformative time in his life. He was 13 years old when he initially heard a Sonny Criss recording and knew that he wanted to study with him. Six years later Cramer made the journey to Los Angeles and Criss soon became his teacher, mentor and friend. William “Sonny” Criss grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and moved out west at 15 years old and subsequently began a 30 year career as a band leader and sideman, playing with greats such as Cedar Walton, Dexter Gordon and Wynton Kelly. Sadly, Criss was diagnosed with cancer and died tragically in 1977 due to a self-inflected gun shot. Thankfully his legacy still lives on in his music and in the hearts of the people he inspired and of those that love and admire him, like Dylan Cramer.
Sonny Criss’ playing was effortless. He had the ability to string together beautifully fluid and flexible lines with every note. His commitment to the melodic phrase is compelling and his sound is sweet, round and at times mournful. I feel like he had a distinct voice on the alto saxophone. A true hero and contributor to the jazz vocabulary we can hear why Cramer was first inspired. Listen to Sonny Criss now on his soulful tune, “Saturday Morning” featuring Hampton Hawes on piano, Clarence Johnson on bass and Frank Butler on drums.