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GOTHAM 168; DECEMBER, 1948

 

RE-RELEASED ON KING 4266; JANUARY, 1949

 
 

 

One of the surest signs to tell if you are officially “old” isn’t to count birthdays, check for gray hairs or wrinkles, or wait for your first Social Security check to arrive in the mail, but rather to simply talk music. Nothing will date somebody quicker than having them offer up their views on contemporary music.

The more obstinate someone is that it’s all worthless garbage the more archaic they are, no matter what date is on their birth certificate.

Rock ‘n’ roll’s arrival in the late 1940’s saw the (sometimes only slightly) older jazz musicians look down their noses as someone like Earl Bostic, who despite his already well-established jazz credentials threw in with the upstart new music, thereby costing himself the respect of those who only recently he had called peers. Yet their resistance to rock’s potential is what aged those otherwise hip jazz cats overnight.

The trend has continued ever since. Frank Sinatra’s ranting over Elvis Presley’s rise in the mid-50’s was a sure sign that Ol’ Blue Eyes was in fact now OLD Blue Eyes, no longer relevant to the current generation and fearful of that downturn in interest felt the need to denigrate the younger upstart who was replacing him on the charts. Ironically Presley saw the same fate befall him when he grumbled about The Beatles a decade later, his own status slipping thanks to a string of putrid movies and their soundtracks and the normal changing of the guard in music that happens over time.

The Beatles themselves were no different as George Harrison complained bitterly about rap when it came along as rock’s most vital new sound, calling it “computerized crap”. By then of course nobody gave a damn about George Harrison’s music anymore so he took his frustrations out on the music of that era that people DID care about, as if that were to blame for his growing artistic irrelevance rather than his meager output over the previous fifteen years and the fact a different generation was driving the musical bus now.

As someone who grew up in a world in which hip-hop was omnipresent, the voice of my generation, defining my outlook every bit as much as the bop of the mid-40’s defined the jazziacs who now scoffed at Bostic’s forays into rock, or Harrison’s allegiance to the music that he and the Fab Four used to define their own decade for that matter, that’s a mindset that I can’t tolerate.

The music someone grew up with isn’t BETTER music, it’s simply more meaningful to those whose own life experiences were intertwined with it, and what they’re complaining about as they age isn’t the different musical aspects but rather the realization that THEIR tastes no longer have any impact on the trends of the music world. By 30 years old they’ve already become culturally irrelevant and in many cases their loss of input into shaping the musical trends of the day is the first real sign of their mortality.
 

The Clock Ticks Forward
The more revolutionary the shift in music the more threatened the older gentry (artists and fans alike) start to feel. In hip-hop the charges are predictably narrow-minded.

It’s not even music!, these old geezers cry. They can’t sing or play instruments, anybody can do what they do! I could write a hit rap song about ho’s and bitches and make millions… but I don’t want to.

Sure, better to work 50 hours at week in a cramped office laughing at your boss’s stale jokes for $46,000 a year! Or breaking your back doing manual labor as your brain atrophies from lack of use while barely making minimum wage and using that to try to pay child support to an ex-wife who has moved up in the world since she dumped your sorry ass. Yeah, why would YOU want to stoop so low as to collect millions in royalties on a hit song for the rest of your life? How silly.

But joking aside, even the most thoughtful critic of hip-hop music tends to focus on the fact that the music behind much of the rhymes isn’t quite original thanks to the prodigious use of sampling. Never mind the ART of sampling is far more complex than most aspects of original music, after all a musician playing music they didn’t write certainly is contributing fewer IDEAS to the song they’re hired to lay down as a sessionist than the producer who has to intuitively know what beats, what hooks, what vibe they need for a track, then cut and mix it in a way that significantly alters its properties to create something entirely new.

Anyway, you’d think those who complain that rap (which, fear not, we’ll get to eventually and cover thoroughly when we reach 1979 here on Spontaneous Lunacy, after which it will dominate the coverage, just as it transformed the rock landscape at the time) would actually appreciate the fact it was reviving snippets of older music… music they might actually remember themselves before they turned old and began counting down the days before the grim reaper came calling.

But what does all THIS have to do with Earl Bostic in 1948? Surely he wasn’t even aware of rap, since he passed away in 1965, well before even the days of The Fatback Band’s “King Tim III”, The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five introduced it to the masses.

Well, you’re right, he knew nothing of rap, which is certainly his loss, but I have a feeling had Bostic been around during its rise he would’ve jumped on board himself rather than criticized its very existence, especially since he had helped to popularize the IDEA of sampling music with Disc Jockey’s Nightmare in the waning days of 1948!

You were wondering how all this was going tie in weren’t you? Well, that’s how, because long before DJ Kool Herc hooked two turntables up in a park in the Bronx to switch from one instrumental break to another Earl Bostic was doing a primitive version of that himself.
 

 

Wake Up Time
It’s been awhile since we’ve encountered Bostic here. A year ago he was heating up rock ‘n’ roll with a string of dizzying instrumentals (845 Stomp in November, 1947, followed by Hot Sauce! – Boss in January 1948) that set the bar high for all other sax players who wanted to follow that path. Many did and it paid off for them commercially even more than it had for Bostic.

His one legitimate hit during this period came with the brilliant Temptation in the spring of ’48, a much mellower groove than his earlier balls to the wall style. Its success surely had a lot to do with the records he subsequently released, which increasingly were a series of jazzy/pop sides far removed from rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s certainly not surprising that he cut them, for as we’ve said with Bostic was something of an iconoclast as evidenced by his move to rock early on, in the process turning his back on the more prestigious jazz he’d been raised in, so he wasn’t averse to marching to his own drummer. But the problem with this decision by the label at the time was the movement towards rowdy unhinged rockers that he himself had spearheaded was finally paying off with huge sales. The sound of summer in 1948 was the squealing saxophone and Bostic, who squealed better than a stuck pig, was suddenly releasing lukewarm pop rather than scalding rock, thereby missing out on the chance to solidify his role in the movement itself and to capitalize on it commercially.

With two sides to a single this decision was even more baffling. For while it’s perfectly understandable, even smart, to pair a tame ballad with a honking dance floor workout, both sides of Bostic’s releases since summer had featured nothing but polite mannered songs that would barely rouse a dozing infant, unlike his best work which could raise the dead.

It’s not that it wasn’t well played, but they were pop offerings and thus as the rock ‘n’ roll traffic sped along at a rapid pace Bostic pulled off the road into a rest stop and let everybody pass him by before finally pulling back onto the highway with Disc Jockey’s Nightmare.

However even here there’s a split in the song’s structure and intent. Though the playing is far more manic than his last four sides, thus making it more rock by comparison to those recent records of his, when measured against what Hal Singer or Wild Bill Moore had put out in the meantime… or for that matter, when measured against what Bostic himself had done a year earlier, it still seems rather compromised.

But it’s certainly close enough and a song that intentionally straddles lines with its inventiveness is an attribute always worth the benefit of the doubt, especially from someone as gifted as Bostic. Besides the sampling aspect enabled me to at least touch upon hip-hop here in 1948 and though I’m writing as fast as I can it’ll be awhile before we get to our first rap entry in the rock sweepstakes in 1979 and I was getting tired of waiting.

So anyway what about the record itself?…
 

Bad Dreams
Bostic’s ability to play blindingly fast, shifting tempos, melodies and styles on the fly, had always been one of his most notable trademarks. He’d shown it in the past, dropping musical cues from other songs into his own originals, but here he takes all of that to another level. Disc Jockey’s Nightmare is a concept record before such a thing had a title, but the record’s OWN title let’s you know just what to expect.

It starts out rather normal, with Earl blowing a rapid-paced riff on the alto that gives the impression of frantically trying to run but getting nowhere, slipping and sliding, falling down and getting back up, lots of action with no progress. The backing behind him however sounds like they were held over from the pop sessions he’d cut and so they’re certainly not adding to the spirit he’s trying to infuse, or so you think.

But then he delves into the “nightmare” aspect for the platter spinner who this musical opus is meant to torment, as he abruptly switches from one song’s familiar melody to another, each playing just for a few bars before he casts it aside in favor of another.

He seems to delight in the creativity of it all, trying to wow you with his dexterity, switching from a slow interlude to one that sounds out of control and then back again. It almost becomes a form of musical charades, as he reels off one riff after another with no let-up, daring the listener to be able to focus long enough to place the melody, think of the title and spit it out to impress your friends, but before you can get your mind settled to do so he pulls the rug out from under you forcing you to focus on the next passage instead.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

You could easily take the title and make it into one in the classic 40’s Merry Melodies styled cartoon shorts. The disc jockey sitting down behind the console, a stack of records ready to play, only to have to keep switching them for whatever cockeyed reason they came up with, eventually wearing himself to a frazzle and collapsing. No dialogue needed, the music provides all of the necessary storyline. In that setting I think it’d work quite well.

But without those visuals and without the immediate recall of each song he cues up (admittedly here in 2017 that’s a harder task than it would’ve been in 1948 when those songs he was sampling were fresher, but many of the melodies are at least still recognizable today) the record becomes an exercise in futility, a gimmick really.

He’s not helped by the fact he’s got a horn section behind him meant to ease the transitions but which because of their more stilted sound wind up steering the song back into pop sensibilities. Normally Bostic is the only horn on his records and it works better that way, as he’s free to explore and has to come up with each mood he wants to convey himself. Here the others – while deemed necessary to keep a melodic underpinning while he jumps all over the place – hurt the overall aural impact.

It’s ambitious for sure, but ultimately a failed experiment.
 

Stay Awake For The Next Thirty To Forty Years
All of those misguided anti-rap factions who criticize the sampling culture as being non-musical only need to look to Disc Jockey’s Nightmare to see how a musician whose skills are almost unrivaled has such trouble beyond the initial concept of stitching together these disparate sounds.

It’s not that he fails in a technical sense as might be expected, but rather he falls short in making those different layers work in harmony with one another to make it sound organic and seamless rather than merely the work of a mad scientist tossing all sorts of ingredients into the cauldron and somehow hoping it comes out making sense.

It’d take another couple decades for musical geniuses of another realm to figure out how to pull it off. So while we salute Bostic’s creativity for the attempt itself we’ll have a long time to wait before we can celebrate the successful implementation of the idea by others. But at least it shows that everything in rock ‘n’ roll, no matter how different the eventual approaches may seem, is connected in some form or fashion.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Earl Bostic for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)