Ah, Earl Bostic! The maestro of the alto sax whose rasping big-toned sax stylings shifted hundreds of thousands of singles, EPs and LPs throughout the 1950s. And not only in the US of A, as my uncle used to reminisce about dancing to a café juke box stacked with Bostic platters in the south side of Glasgow back in the ‘50s. The first time I heard the man himself was towards the end of the 1970s on his version of “Harlem Nocturne” which turned up on one of the Old King Gold LPs. It’s a masterpiece of moody sleaze which immediately transported me (in mind, if not in body) to an exotic strip club. If you’re looking for an instrumental record to set a mood or get the dancers a-swingin’ and a-swayin’ then you can’t go wrong with Bostic.
Vintage EP cover courtesy Joan K.
Like so many Be Bop Wino heroes, Earl Bostic came from a solid big band background, most notably with a 1943/44 Lionel Hampton line up that included fellow future R&B luminaries Joe Morris, Big Al Sears and Arnett Cobb. But back in the early to mid ‘40s Earl wasn’t only swingin’ with the big bands, he was also going along to those after hours jam sessions in NYC which were the birthplace of bebop.
In Ira Gitler’s book “Swing to Bop”, Allen Tinney remembered the sessions at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, where Charlie Parker and Earl Bostic squared off against each other:
“And a guy named Earl Bostic used to come in and watch him [Charlie Parker]. You know it’s like gunslingers, and one night they hooked up. I don’t really know who won because it was too tremendous, but Bostic had been scouting him, and they really hooked up, and it was tremendous.”
In the same book Hal Singer talked about Sunday afternoon jam sessions at a club called The Heatwave:
“Then for the jam session Bird called ‘Cherokee.’ The two horns were Bird and Bostic. Both of them were great and they had a great feeling towards each other. There was a great admiration for each other’s drive and technique.”
Notwithstanding his ability to hold his own against the up and coming beboppers, Earl’s musical career followed the path of swing, jump, rhythm and blues and even pop, but his amazing technique which was widely acknowledged by fellow musicians such as Art Blakey and John Coltrane always meant that there was something in his work to interest jazz fans. At the height of his commercial success with King Records in the 1950s his bands included future jazz legends like Coltrane, Stanley Turrentine and Benny Golson.
In 1945 Bostic formed his own big band which included Don Byas and Tiny Grimes and cut a couple of discs for Majestic. In 1946 he signed with Gotham records which at that time was based in NYC and over the next two years he recorded a series of small group jump (occasionally very wild!) and swing sides, gaining success with “Away” and more notably “Temptation.”
Towards the end of 1948 he signed with the larger King Records. Within a couple of years he had moved away from the jump sound he favoured at Gotham and with the addition of Gene Redd on vibes had developed a fuller sound which brought a series of hits such as “Sleep,” “Moonglow” and the chart topper “Flamingo.” Single success lasted from 1951 through to 1954. The formula for this success was to take a swing standard and give it a danceable big beat treatment with a dash of echo included. Just the thing for the juke boxes!
From 1956 onwards Earl Bostic’s King recording sessions were aimed at the growing LP market and a veritable avalanche of big 12 inchers was released over the next few years with titles such as “Dance to the Best of Bostic,” “Earl Bostic For You,” Alto-Tude,” “Dance Time,” “Let’s Dance with Earl Bostic,” “Invitation to Dance from Earl Bostic,” “C’mon and Dance with Earl Bostic,” “Bostic Rocks,” “Alto Magic in Hi-Fi,” and “Bostic Showcase of Swingin’ Dance Hits.” There may be a theme to these titles. Some of these LPs are still available as King CDs with the original front cover art still in place. Below are a couple of examples I bought through Amazon marketplace.
The 1985 Charly LP I’ve posted here provides a 16 track overview of Bostic’s career from his 1940s Gotham and early King jump sides (with hissy sound quality), through his early 1950s big selling singles (much better sound quality) to his mid to late 1950’s dance LP sides.
Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps.
Download from here:
1. Night Train
2. 8.45 Stomp
3. That's The Groovy Thing
4. Special Delivery Stomp
7. Earl Blows A Fuse
8. Harlem Nocturne
9. Who Snuck The Wine In The Gravy?
10. Don't You Do It
11. Disc Jockey's Nightmare
13. Steam Whistle Jump
14. What! No Pearls
15. Tuxedo Junction
16. Seven Steps
Recommended purchases include the 4CD Properbox set "The Earl Bostic Story" which follows his career from his earliest sides for Gotham in 1946 to his King period in 1955. Rev-Ola have issued a CD, “Let’s Ball Tonight,” which has 28 Gotham and early King sides.
Collector’s corner. Proper had a good 2CD set called “Flamingo” which followed Bostic’s career from his Hampton days up until his 1951 sides for King. A good collection with excellent notes by Joop Visser. The See For Miles label had two Earl Bostic collections in their “EP Collection” series. Both are excellent, but the first volume is simply outstanding with every track a standout and all in superb sound quality. If you see this (or the other two out of print CDs) going secondhand at a reasonable price, then buy with confidence.