KING 4387; AUGUST 1950



Time once again to check in with one of music’s most restless wanderers.

Never content to stick with any one musical approach – or even one musical genre – for very long, Earl Bostic chooses instead to grace us with his presence in rock circles only sporadically.

Truthfully this record might not even qualify in the strictest sense of the term but the concern here is that if we don’t keep track of him as much as possible he may disappear off the radar altogether and wind up in some alternate musical dimension, unable to get back to our galaxy, doomed to float through the outer reaches of a remote sonic universe for eternity.

So in the hopes we can stave off that frightening possibility we do our best to keep him tethered to rock ‘n’ roll more than he probably wants, envisioning a day when he consents to settle down in our realm more or less permanently.

Of course it’s doubtful that’ll ever happen but if given the choice between stretching a point just to keep someone this talented in sight or losing him altogether there’s no question which option we’ll choose.


First Step On The Road To Enlightenment
Whatever style he’s aligning himself at any given time, we know that Earl Bostic is not going to always play by the established rules OF that style, at least not completely. That in turn gives his records a certain flexibility that we’re obviously taking advantage of here by including this under the rock banner despite the majority of the song being pretty ill-suited for it.

Of course the risk in doing that for a project like this, at least when it comes to Bostic’s legacy, is that these compromised tracks won’t have nearly enough rock elements and therefore they’ll be downgraded accordingly, leaving anyone daft enough to take our subjective scores seriously to wonder just why he’s been deemed an important figure in this realm, let alone why he’s so revered among schooled musicians.

Although Seven Steps is hardly ideally suited for rock’s rather coarse rules of the game, there’s no doubting Bostic’s abilities when you listen to it as this comes across as almost a casual exercise that barely shows any strain or effort, yet is remarkably tight and smartly conceived all the same.

So while the more lush elements of this that conjure up bachelor pad musical aesthetics will be seen as woefully out of place by many rock enthusiasts – and they certainly are – the parts that Bostic himself contribute make for a slightly better fit around here than it might appear at first glance.

But only slightly… so don’t say you haven’t been warned.


Stepping Up
The clear glassy sheen of Bostic’s alto in the opening gives this a decidedly high class vibe, but it’s a much different mindset than the 1940’s jazz approach he’d used in the past and which still was clinging to a lot of run-of-the-mill songs like kudzu vines as a lot of sax players who’d come up in that era still viewed that as the accepted standard.

Bostic though was always more about creating new sounds than sticking closely to the old which allows Seven Steps to distance itself from that creative dead-end as his tone and playing style here are more in line with the jet age – sleek and shiny like polished chrome, although like chrome it may be also a bit cold to the touch at first.

When he gets into more of a riff mentality he coarsens that tone enough to make it relatable to rock audiences who’ve come to expect those kind of gritty textures in their saxophone fixes, something most tenors have no trouble delivering but which altos were usually unsuited for.

Those usual limitations however are not something that affects Bostic who effortlessly knew how to coax sounds well beyond an alto’s comfort zone from his horn and this is no different, his brief flirtation with a rougher quality giving this a good foundation to build from. He’s helped in this task by one like-minded sideman in drummer Joe Marshall who provides enough percussive cracks on the snare to give this some added rhythmic thump.

Of course all of that doesn’t help much when they both step aside and let other, far less suitable, musicians take the reins for the mid-section of the song which sends this into another world, one that may be relatively tranquil and unimposing for visitors like us but which provides no outlet for our hardened sensibilities.

Watch Your Step
From time to time we’ve mentioned the rise of the laid-back bachelor pad music that was just starting to peek out from behind the potted plants in suburban America’s sunken dens and rumpus rooms of the 1950’s.

This hybrid sound – not serious enough to be classified as jazz, much too avant garde for pop, not uninhibited enough for rock, but containing traces of all three – was instrumental music defined by a serene sense of calm that came wrapped in often eccentric packaging.

Over the next few years, coinciding with the burgeoning popularity of the 33 RPM long playing albums and the advancement in stereo sounds and the hi-fi equipment designed to showcase that, this type of music became a status symbol of sorts, the kind of music adults with a sense of modernistic flair gravitated towards once the singles charts came to be dominated by rock ‘n’ roll while the older gentry clung to easy listening artists and their bland safe deliveries.

That’s not to say that Seven Steps or Earl Bostic himself were part of this up and coming trend exactly, but you can at least get a sense of what it grew from by listening to this, as the vibes of Gene Redd provide a lush dreamy interlude from the harsher saxophone as it attempts to soothe your nerves while still providing quirky melodic attributes to stimulate your senses.

But when that segues immediately into a dainty piano that takes us from the murky divide between musical realms and plunges us headlong into a completely alien world where rockers are persona non grata… not that we’d want to stay confined to such lightweight doodling as this… that’s when we pull back in disgust.

Now to be fair, the manner in which Clifton Smalls plays is hardly the white tie and tails approach. Though completely lacking rhythm or assertiveness he’s at least sticking to a similar herky jerky melodic framework that had been established by the vibes, but whereas that instrument has a more whimsical feel by nature, the ivories are far too well-established in people’s minds to elicit the same response and as a result this record begins to sink into drab pop.

Bostic’s return rights the ship slightly, as does the more emphatic drumming that goes with it, and when Earl starts ripping off a few lines with greater urgency later on you hope that he might have one final explosive run in him, but instead he eases back on the throttle and brings this in for an uneventful landing.

Out Of Step
It’s not very fair to Earl Bostic that we’re left to judge this record in a context he himself hadn’t fully intended it to be housed in but the alternative is to dismiss it entirely and wait for him to jump back into rock with both feet, which could be a long wait.

So compromised though this is, Seven Steps shows just enough traits of rock in Bostic’s better moments to be given a break and included here, but unfortunately for him that’s the only break we can give him when assessing it.

In the midst of a playlist of bachelor pad exotica maybe this would be a better fit, though it’s probably too demure for that style too once it got its feet under it, but while this might be seen as criticism for the performances in either of those settings, the truth is, as with everything Earl Bostic plays, you can’t find too much fault in the musicianship.

But what’s also true about everything Bostic was connected to was how you can always zero in on his wandering musical focus and see that even in the span of a two minute and forty second song he can’t seem to remain fixated on satisfying just one constituency.

As interesting – and frustrating – as ever.


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