One of the more enigmatic artists in music history, Earl Bostic was among the most skilled saxophonists of all-time, his technical ability on par with anyone, reputedly cutting other legends such as Charlie Parker to pieces on the bandstand, yet he walked away from jazz in order to pursue a more commercial sound in rock ‘n’ roll and in the process his historical reputation took a huge hit, as he was perceived as a sell-out for his actions even as he scored far more hits and greatly expanded the possibilities of rock in the process.

Bostic was born in Oklahoma, graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana and after playing professionally in various ensembles made his debut on wax with Lionel Hampton in 1939 and quickly gained a reputation as an inventive musician. By 1944 he was recording under his own name and it seemed as if he would take his place among the jazz luminaries of the day, but by 1947 he was branching out into a more uninhibited style called rock ‘n’ roll and it was his early forays in the field that unleashed the instrument stylistically by focusing on its ability to whip crowds into a frenzy.

Unlike most who followed who featured the tenor sax, Bostic played alto but was able to honk effectively with it while at the same time being able to squeal high notes that others couldn’t reach. His first few sides in this field were storming rockers but he got his first hit with “Temptation” featuring a heavier groove.

From this point forward he dabbled in everything, doing jazz and pop tunes alongside the more frantic rock output. The jazz community never quite embraced him fully again though even as other musicians still were in awe of his talents, with future star John Coltrane getting his start in Bostic’s band and learning at his feet.

Over the years he scored numerous chart hits including a #1 smash in “Flamingo”, but his success in this realm indicated to many that he was merely a commercial act, not a serious jazz musician. Yet Bostic’s work in rock was both influential and artistic, introducing vibes to the sonic palette, adding a more prominent backbeat to his work as he went about redefining old standards with his melodic adventures.

In sales he was rivaled only by Big Jay McNeely in rock sax circles but by the late 1950’s Bostic was called upon to churn out so much material for the new album market by his record label, King, that the quality of his output began to suffer, as did his health. He suffered the first of multiple heart attacks in 1957 and his final, fatal, heart attack occurred on stage in 1965.
EARL BOSTIC DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
(Gotham 154; November, 1947)
Bostic holds nothing back… not a single word is spoken and even the title doesn’t hint an impropriety, but he uses his horn to unleash a string of profanities to make the devil himself blush with embarrassment. A torrid performance. (7)

(Gotham 154; November, 1947)
Bostic doubles-down on the excitement shown on his first rock release although this one is more up and down, yet its mere presence alone signals that the musical fault lines under everybody’s feet in late 1947 are about to break open. (6)

(Gotham 155; January, 1948)
Organized mayhem, perfect for a roadhouse after midnight on a Friday night, somewhat disjointed but impressive for the sheer physicality of the performance and the relentless drive to keep you moving. (7)

(Gotham 155; January, 1948)
Firmly in the rock vein but lacking the melodic hook and structure to make it coherent and the explosiveness to make it truly exhilarating, this merely suggests the type of chaos and disorder such songs need to deliver in order to meet expectations. (4)

(Gotham 160; April, 1948)
Bostic turns this into a sensuous seductive groove, transforming the pop standard into something suggestive, even dirty, all of which he pulls off with a confident swagger. (8)

(Gotham 161; June, 1948)
A decent, if fairly by the numbers, instrumental with a strong first half that wanders a little too much in the middle as the piano takes over before abruptly closing things out with Bostic brief return. (5)

(Gotham 168/King 4266; December, 1948)
Creative early example of the concept of sampling as Bostic tosses in seemingly dozens of song “clips” into this display of his virtuosity, but the results are hampered by the poppish backing and the schizophrenic execution of an idea whose time is yet to come. (3)

(King 4277; February, 1949)
The first record Bostic cut for King Records, his home for the rest of his life, as well as marking a welcome return to the frantic rock style he pioneered more than a year earlier before taking a stylistic sabbatical for months on end. This finds his skills in that regard undiminished and playing with the frantic intensity he was known for. (7)

(King 4302; June, 1949)
An attempt at a late night mood piece is more lethargic than anything, hampered by uninspired backing and not much apparent interest on Bostic’s part to salvage it. (3)

(King 4302; June, 1949)
The first Bostic vocal to date finds him reasonably effective in the role but of course it’s just a side show to the main event, his frantic horn work which he delivers with a renewed sense of purpose here. (6)

(King 4316; October, 1949)
An odd stylistic curveball that attempts to put Bostic in the novelty vocal realm with this reworked version of the Wynonie Harris-led 1945 pre-rock hit “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well”, on which this song’s writer/producer Henry Glover played trumpet. Inoffensive but unfunny. (3)

(King 4316; October, 1949)
Another compromised effort featuring some strong playing by Bostic and held back by uncertain aims and the relative shortcomings of his bandmates, all of which give the impression nobody was quite sure which direction to head in at this point. (4)

(King 4328; December, 1949)
More unnecessary vocals and an insipid story mar this latest effort by Bostic whose brief playing in between the sung lines are about all that elevate this past worthless, but just barely. (3)

(King 4328; December, 1949)
Simple and straightforward, not trying to do too much, not tossing in any ill-conceived ideas, just delivering a very basic, well-judged and well-played rock instrumental, the kind Bostic could’ve – and should’ve – churned out in his sleep. (5)

(King 4343; February, 1950)
Another uneven record with some intermittent great playing by Bostic and some aimless wandering by him and his overmatched musicians all of whom try to squeeze in too many ideas in one performance and wind up coming across as directionless. (5)

(King 4343, February, 1950)
A tale of two records – the first half features Bostic delivering some mesmerizing lines on his alto, but in the second half he hands it over to Count Hasting’s tenor which takes it directly into bland pop territory leaving us confused and frustrated again. (5)

(King 4369; May, 1950)
Another stylistic shift, this time towards a dreamy lounge music motif with the addition of vibes and his appropriation of a Franz Schubert melody from the early 1800’s, hardly stirring rock fans’ interests though it’s atmospheric and played quite nicely. (4)

(King 4387; August, 1950)
Continuing his nascent bachelor pad experiments with vibes and piano augmenting his sax, this runs hot and cold with his parts being really solid while the rest of the arrangement is too poppish to ever connect. (3)

(King 4420; November, 1950)
It’s frankly amazing this is as good as it is considering Bostic doesn’t even play much – if any – sax, but the song features his best singing to date plus the most lyrically dense song he’s contributed to the genre, which is funny, frantic and cynical in equal measure. (7)

(King 4437; February, 1951)
The title is the best – and worst – thing about this record as it shows they were trying to tap into rock’s growing reputation yet doing so without much authenticity as Bostic’s horn takes a back seat to vocals which paint a picture the music doesn’t try and live up to. (3)

(King 4444; March, 1951)
A return to the charts for Bostic as he was entering his most successful period on a series of standards with some great rock-based honking mixed with an exotic bachelor pad aesthetic thanks to his use of vibes which made the songs stand out and have cross-market appeal. (5)

(King 4475; October, 1951)
The defining record of Bostic’s career, a mesmerizing rendition of a light jazz classic which contrasts Bostic’s gritty sax relentlessly grinding out the melody against the lush vibe flourishes creating an addictive groove perfectly suited for rock ‘n’ roll. (9)

(King 4491; October, 1951)
A pointless, unambitious and largely worthless cover record of Peppermint Harris’s endearing hit replaces his drunken charm with Clyde Terrell’s inexplicably sober performance while Bostic himself sits this out. (3)

(King 4491; October, 1951)
A waste of wax as they make the dual mistake of trying to replicate Joe Turner’s approach with a weaker vocalist, yet tweak the arrangement in ways that eliminates much of the minimalist charm of the original without Bostic on board to add anything to it. (2)

(King 4511; February, 1952)
Interesting blend of laid back bachelor pad motifs and some more lustful rocking interjections which blend well in Bostic’s hands, even if the concept itself spans too wide a gulf for it to really be effective. (4)

(King 4536; May, 1952)
He does a credible job to rock up this ancient (1923) jazz standard with his gritty sax placed front and center, but when he steps aside for the vibe solo it loses much of its pull that not even Bostic can get back when he resumes blowing. (4)

(King 4550; July, 1952)
His harsher more insistent tone and overall approach make this far more rock than jazz or pop, even as the side pieces, especially Gene Redd’s vibes, keep it tethered to jazz, but as well as it’s played there’s nothing transcendent about it. (5)

(King 4570; October, 1952)
The run of standards continues here, but the familiar melody itself is so delectable and Bostic’s alto sax caresses it while making sure not to skimp on the soulfulness that there’s no reason to complain about the unambitious aims of the material. (6)

(King 4570; October, 1952)
Bostic deserves a medal more than a hit for taking such a clunky song that was terrible in every rendition and turning it into something that actually works well for a certain kind of grinding seduction… a long way from the composition’s original milquetoast intent. (6)

(King 4586; December, 1952)
A surprisingly tough sounding rendition of a smooth light jazz vocal classic with Bostic digging deep in front of grinding support, transforming the song into something appropriate for rock even if it can never define rock due to its origins and familiarity. (6)