One of the most in demand saxophonists of 1950’s rock sessions, Sears, like so many others who filled that role during the decade, was a veteran of the 1940’s jazz and big band scene. When that music’s popularity declained with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll at the end of the 1940’s these non-headlining musicians were able to find plenty of work in studios and on stage behind a generation of rockers without their own self-contained bands while even finding time to cut rock sides of their own in an attempt at becoming a star in their own right.

Al Sears was born in Illinois in 1910 and rose to prominence working for the great drummer and bandleader Chick Webb in 1928 while still in his teens. He spent most of the next decade leading his own ensembles making a name for himself with other musicians if not the public at large. By the early 1940’s Sears began a succession of high profile gigs in the bands of some of the most acclaimed bandleaders in history, among them Andy Kirk, Lionel Hampton and most notably for Duke Ellington where he stepped into the shoes of the immortal Ben Webster and held down the number one chair in the sax section for the next five years.

Though Ellington was one of the jazz artists mostly unaffected by the changing tastes of the nation, Sears nevertheless moved on in 1949 recording a long string of rock instrumentals as it was becoming clear the future lay for many on the instrument. During this time he was working with fellow sax legend Johnny Hodges, including writing and taking the solo on the hit “Castle Rock”, a record that came out under Hodges’ name.

By the mid-1950’s Sears had become one of the stalwarts in the house bands for Alan Freed’s enormous rock shows in New York and appeared in some of the quickie rockploitation movies starring Freed at the time. As time went on however the need for sessionists slacked off a little as more artists had self-contained bands and the guitar elbowed the tenor sax out of the spotlight.

Sears settled into semi-retirement by the 1960’s having been one of the dominant figures in both jazz and rock, but since he was rarely credited on the labels for his role in either genre his enormous legacy was largely overlooked by the general public. Nevertheless Sears enjoyed some notoriety among more astute historians and had a small Jazz Festival named for him in his home town of Macomb, Illinois. He died in 1990 at the age of 80.
AL SEARS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Coral 65023; February, 1950)
Though Sears’ work here is really good he barely gets a chance to showcase his skills as the majority of this record is taken up by the drunken shouting, humming and singing of The Sparrows/JiveBombers who spread their brand of musical misery like an infectious disease. (3)

(Coral 65029; April, 1950)
More mismatched parts as The Sparrows get us lost on this travelogue by taking us to outdated hot spots, but Sears manages to steer us back in the right direction and even gets the group to conform to rock vocal traits for an all-too brief passage. (3)