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Album Review

Sultry, swaggering alto saxophonist Earl Bostic had his roots in swing and bop, but was and continues to be closely associated with the popular instrumental Rhythm & Blues sound of the 1950s. In 2004, the Classics label released a fourth volume of vintage Bostic, assembling 25 records he cut for the King label between April 1952 and October 1953. After spending years in the reed sections of bands led by such heavyweights as Lionel Hampton and Hot Lips Page, Bostic started recording under his own name in 1945 and had hit upon a terrifically successful production formula by December 1951 when he was badly injured in an automobile accident that occurred while he was passing through Georgia, and had to spend the next two months recuperating in a hospital. This installment in the Classics Earl Bostic chronology documents his return to professional activity as he and his band picked up where they'd left off by making lots of records while gigging at the Hi Hat in Boston, touring the West Coast, playing the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the Earle Theater in Philly, swinging through the Carolinas, rebounding to Los Angeles and then heading back to Chicago. So much for rest and recuperation! The alto sax & vibe equation was a staple of Bostic's patented '50s sound. One of his key players was trumpeter and vibraphonist Gene Redd; a glance through the rest of the lineup reveals the presence of up-and-coming modern musicians such as trumpeter Tommy Turrentine and his brother, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, as well as 26-year-old John Coltrane. But the main feature on every one of these tunes is the guy in front with the alto. This collection offers a particularly thrilling slice of full force Bostic performances. He is credited as the composer of "Velvet Sunset" (a sensuous ballad with backing vocals by the Ike Isaacs Trio); "What, No Pearls?" "Cracked Ice," and the "Steamwhistle Jump," an over the top set of variations on a theme clearly recognizable as Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train." There is a Billy Eckstine-inspired vocal by one Bill Williams on "The Song Is Ended." Points of extra interest are Bostic adaptations of Camille Saint-Saëns "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice" from Samson and Delilah and a "Poème" by Czech composer Zdenek Fibich. Bostic could and did play just about anything that appealed to his fancy. Everything he touched became sensual in ways that appealed to the record-buying public — including, it was noted, white folks throughout the South — ballads took on a copulative intensity and every tune had the potential to become approachably, accessibly exciting. You expect "Cherokee" to kick a little, but Bostic had a way of making tunes like "Linger Awhile" and "O Sole Mio" sit up and rock. If you want to know what Earl Bostic was all about, go directly to his "Steamwhistle Jump."


Born: April 25, 1913 in Tulsa, OK

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

Alto saxophonist Earl Bostic was a technical master of his instrument, yet remained somewhat underappreciated by jazz fans due to the string of simple, popular R&B/jump blues hits he recorded during his heyday in the '50s. Born Eugene Earl Bostic in Tulsa, OK, on April 25, 1913, Bostic played around the Midwest during the early '30s, studied at Xavier University, and toured with several bands before moving to New York in 1938. There he played for Don Redman, Edgar Hayes, and Lionel Hampton, making...
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1952-1953, Earl Bostic
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