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Jazz Remembered

Earl Bostic

Earl Bostic.jpg

Saxophonist Eugene Earl Bostic was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1913. He played clarinet at school and saxophone with the local Boy Scouts group before joining Terence Holder's "Twelve Clouds of Joy" at eighteen. As well as playing with the 'Twelve Clouds' he played on the riverboats with Fate Marable, and with other bands including those of Hot Lips Page, Rex Stewart, Don Byas, Charlie Christian and Cab Calloway. He made his first recordings with Lionel Hampton at the age of 27. Earl graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans and then, during the 1940s, formed his own band and made recordings on the Majestic label. His biggest ‘hit’ was his signature tune Flamingo. That is just a quick summary of his early journey - Wikipedia will tell you more here.

 

Remembering the Wood Green Jazz Club days, Peter Pohl wrote to us: 'The record played most times during the intervals must have been Earl Bostic's 'Flamingo '. I can't hear that number now without being taken back to those great days at WGJC!'

 

I can understand how the 'catchy' track would have worked well in those club intervals. A good example is this video of people dancing to his recording of Artie Shaw's Special Delivery Stomp., but those later recordings by Earl Bostic seem to me to be quite some way from his earlier work.

If we look back at those earlier times, a number of well known jazz musicians played in his band – Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Sir Charles Thompson, Stanley Turrentine, to name but a few, and Earl was also writing arrangements for Paul Whiteman, Louis Prima, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa and others - it was Earl Bostic who wrote Let Me Off Uptown, performed by Anita O'Day and Roy Eldridge in this video (here).

Earl Bostic was a fine saxophonist. Fellow alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson remembers: "seeing (Charlie) Parker get burned by Bostic during one such jam session at Minton's. Donaldson said that Bostic "was the greatest saxophone player I ever knew. Bostic was down at Minton's and Charlie Parker came in there. They played 'Sweet Georgia Brown' or something and he gave Charlie Parker a saxophone lesson. Now you'd see him, we'd run up there and think that we're going to blow him out, and he'd make you look like a fool. 'Cause he'd play three octaves, louder, stronger and faster."

Listen to Earl playing Up There In Orbit:

Others commented on Earl Bostic's playing too. Art Blakey remarked that "Nobody knew more about the saxophone than Bostic, I mean technically, and that includes Bird. Working with Bostic was like attending a university of the saxophone. When Coltrane played with Bostic, I know he learned a lot". Victor Schonfield pointed out that "...his greatest gift was the way he communicated through his horn a triumphant joy in playing and being, much like Louis Armstrong and only a few others have done."  Benny Golson, who called Bostic "the best technician I ever heard in my life," mentioned that "He could start from the bottom of the horn and skip over notes, voicing it up the horn like a guitar would. He had circular breathing before I even knew what circular breathing was – we're talking about the early '50s. He had innumerable ways of playing one particular note. He could double tongue, triple tongue. It was incredible what he could do, and he helped me by showing me many technical things."

 

Here is Earl Bostic and his Orchestra playing Sweet Lorraine.

During the late 1940s, Bostic changed his style in a successful attempt to reach a wider audience. The new sound incorporated his unmistakable rasp or growl, shorter lines than in his jazz-based recordings, emphasis on a danceable back beat and a new way of wringing "...the greatest possible rhythmic value from every note and phrase." Bostic showed off the new approach in his hit "Temptation", which reached the Top Ten of the R&B chart during the summer of 1948. The addition of Gene Redd on vibes in 1950 rounded out the Bostic sound and he used the vibes on his major hits such as "Flamingo" in 1951. Some recordings such as C Jam Blues however seem a long way from the music of his earlier days.

It is said that Earl Bostic was influenced by Sidney Bechet and (according to James Moody) John Coltrane was in turn influenced by Bostic. Coltrane told Down Beat magazine in 1960 that Bostic "showed me a lot of things on my horn. He has fabulous technical facilities on his instrument and knows many a trick." Moody mentioned that "Bostic knew his instrument inside out, back to front and upside down." It is also suggested that 'If one listens carefully to Bostic's fabulous stop time choruses and his extended solo work, the roots of Coltrane's "sheets of sound" become clear.'

 

Earl's 1963 album Jazz As I Feel It featured Shelly Manne (drums), Joe Pass (guitar) and Richard Holmes (organ). The recording enabled Bostic to extend the three-minute limit imposed by the 45 RPM format. Here is the band playing Telstar Drive in 1963 with Earl demonstrating his earlier form from the be-bop days.

In the 1950s, Earl suffered a heart attack, moved to Los Angeles and concentated on writing arrangements, but he still led his own band and he died on October 28, 1965, from a heart attack in New York while performing with his band.

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