Earl Bostic ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

earl-bosticOne of a select few rhythm and blues saxophonists who were studio regulars, Earl Bostic recorded prolifically and in a variety of formats. He was much favoured on the Juke boxes where he delivered some eighty or so 45s, his output of EPs numbered over sixty, and he recorded almost a dozen 10″ LPs and another twenty-five full-length LPs, nine of which were released in 1959 alone, stands the test of time and is an impressive testimony to his dedicated efforts. More importantly, however, he was an influential figure for later saxophonists in soul and rock music, as well as many jazz musicians and among the latter of those who performed in his band, one finds the likes of Blue Mitchell, the Turrentine brothers Stanley and Tommy, as well as vibist Teddy Charles and tenorist Benny Golson. Indeed altoist Lou Donaldson, who himself recorded prolifically for Blue Note, cites Bostic as a seminal influence. A young tenorist by the name of John Coltrane spoke in idolatry terms of Earl Bostic when he briefly joined the band on tour in 1952 and referred to Bostic’s, ‘Fabulous technical facilities’.

Earl Bostic enjoyed a lengthy tenure with King records for whom he signed as early as 1948 after a stint with the Gotham label and it is the King sides that the listener hears on the two CD set. While success was not immediately forthcoming, the label’s patience was finally rewarded in 1951 with two R &B hits,’Harlem Nocture’, and ‘Where or when’, both of which open up the first CD set here on the album, ”Dance time’. In general, Bostic’s approach was to take standards, and these sometimes included a classical piece, and imbue them with his own infectious rocking dose of R & B that appealed to a wide audience and one that signficantly cut across genres and ethnic group interests. They were instrumentals that were instantly catchy possessing strong hooks and yet within these numbers, Bostic was fully capable of delivering a blistering solo in miniature. Thus Irvin Berlin’s, ‘Blues skies’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s, ‘Lover come back to me’, could rub shoulders on the record, ‘Let’s dance’, with the likes of Franz Liszt, on ‘Leiberstraum’ and Saint Saens’, My heart at thy sweet voice’, which tells you everything you need to know about Bostic’s wholly eclectic approach to music.

Ideally, one would have liked to have seen included some of the other early major hits such as ‘Flamingo’ or ‘Sleep’, and the stunning overview album, ‘Earl Bostic blows a fuse’, which covers Gotham and King sides, is equally deserving of a new re-issue since it last surfaced on vinyl in 1985 on Charly. Otherwise, this is a fine entrance point for those not familiar with classic R & B instrumentals and the influence of Bostic on a later generation simply cannot be ignored and among these, King Curtis and Bruce Springsteen’s favoured saxophonist, Clemence Clemons (both now sadly departed) certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of Earl Bostic.

Tim Stenhouse