Sonny Fortune

Sonny Fortune (May 19, 1939 — Oct. 25 2018) was an American jazz saxophonist who rose to prominence via 1972/73 backing stints with Roy Ayers, Leon Spencer, and McCoy Tyner. In 1974, he played in the Miles Davis band, appearing on Get Up With It and three live albums.

As a bandleader, Fortune debuted with the 1974 Strata-East title Long Before Our Mothers Cried, followed by the 1975/76 Horizon releases Awakening and Waves of Dreams. He moved to Atlantic for the 1977 jazz-funk album Serengeti Minstrel, followed by the 1978/79 titles Infinity Is and With Sound Reason.


He was born Cornelius Fortune on May 19, 1939, in Philadelphia, where he attended the Wurlitzer and Granoff music schools and performed with local R&B bands in his teens. As a young saxophonist, his primary influences were Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane.

In 1966, he collaborated with organist Stan Hunter on the soul-jazz album Trip On the Strip, released on Prestige. Fortune plays alto and tenor sax on the seven-song set, which includes two of his compositions, “Corn Flakes” and “Sonny’s Mood.”

In 1967, Fortune moved to New York City, where he first played alongside drummer Elvin Jones. The following year, he joined the backing band of Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría and played on his 1968/69 Columbia titles Soul Bag, Workin’ On a Groovy Thing, and Stone Soul. Also in 1969, Fortune played on two cuts (“Dontcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya,” “Water Brother”) on the A&M/CTI release Tell It Like It Is by guitarist George Benson.

Over the next two years, Fortune played on albums by saxist David Young, soul singer Clydie King (Direct Me), and Benson’s album of Beatles covers The Other Side of Abbey Road.

Fortune’s credits proliferated during 1972 and 1973 as he played on albums by Melvin Sparks (Akilah!), Richard Roundtree (The Man From Shaft), Roy Brooks and the Artistic Truth (Ethnic Expressions), and Pharoah Sanders (Izipho Zam (My Gifts)). He also started multi-albums stints with Roy Ayers (He’s Coming, Red Black & Green), McCoy Tyner (Sahara, Song For My Lady, Song of the New World), and Leon Spencer (Bad Walking Woman, Where I’m Coming From). With Tyner, he incorporated soprano sax and flute.


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