When critics speak of Sonny Fortune, names like Coltrane, Cannonball, Young, Bechet, Hawkins and Parker are mentioned. Quite a legacy - but well deserved - for Sonny Fortune embodies all of the finest qualities of those late, great musicians: hard work, dedication to his art, and exceptional music. Lucky for us, Sonny is still here and blowing hard.
Born in Philadelphia on May 19, 1939, he was 18 years old before deciding to pursue a career in jazz. In 1967 he moved to New York. Says the quiet, straight-talking Fortune of that move: Eventually, in order to find out if you really have what it takes, you have to go to the center, and that's New York...you can only do so much in your hometown.
After a brief stint with Elvin Jones and Frank Foster, Fortune, an early admirer of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, joined Mongo Santamaria's group, with whom he remained for over 2 years. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970, but stayed in California for only seven months and came back east where he worked with vocalist Leon Thomas before joining McCoy Tyner with whom he played for 2 1/2 years. During this period, in which Fortune started playing the soprano sax, he cemented an already solid reputation as an instrumental innovator with his contributions on Tyner's albums Sahara, Song For My Lady, and Song of the New World.
Fortune then went on to work independently with his own ensemble and with drummer Buddy Rich, and was featured on the live LP recorded at Rich's Manhattan nightspot, Buddy's Place. In September 1974, Miles Davis offered Sonny a job in his fusion group. Fortune had previously turned down the same offer to stay with Tyner, but now he eagerly accepted the opportunity to move on to something completely new. Fortune, by now accomplished on several instruments (clarinet, flute, tenor and baritone sax included), stayed with Miles for a year, recording four LPs, Big Fun, Agartha, Pangaea and Get Up With It.