KING 4444; APRIL 1951



Over rock’s first four years Earl Bostic has been something of an enigma.

In a purely technical sense he was most talented saxophonist to record extensively in rock ‘n’ roll, yet arguably he was the least in need of it to further his career, not to mention one of the least committed to it.

Or so it would seem.

On both of those counts Bostic surprises you the more you study his output, for while he did in fact continually head into completely different areas of music, he frequently returned to rock when he presumably had no real incentive to other than finding it a good outlet for some of his more ostentatious ideas.

The other aspect of this though might be more interesting, for while his jazz chops always guaranteed him a spot in classier clubs and the respect of the industry itself, the ongoing commercial downturn in the singles market for jazz meant that his forays into rock – or by now rock-influenced standards – ensured he had a leg up on many of his peers when it came to marketability.

Whether a concerted effort or sheer good fortune, the next few years found few on the instrument who could rival Earl Bostic’s mainstream appeal.


In Our Memories Sweet
It’s always fascinating and a little precarious trying to discern what Earl Bostic was thinking at any moment. Nobody seemed to delight more in crossing you up than he did, whether he was honking and squealing up a storm in late 1947, establishing the rock sax game plan right out of the gate or then, upon finding actual commercial success with it, seemingly abandoning it altogether soon after.

In the time since then he’s been no less confounding, whether it was cutting songs featuring vocals or that sides were practically novelty records, Bostic never did what was expected.

The approach he was just starting to use now didn’t seem on the surface to have much appeal to any one specific constituency.

A lot of the material he was cutting now consisted largely of standards and so the younger generation had no connection to the songs and though they certainly might approve of the honking he did on them the presence of more rambunctious playing was sure to alienate the older and more sophisticated audience that might otherwise be attracted to recognizable titles such as Sleep which had first drawn notice back in the 1920’s with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians.

Meanwhile the arrangements themselves featured atypical instruments prominently in the mix, specifically his newfound fascination with vibes which lent a quasi-exotic feel to the records, something which soon would become known as bachelor pad music.

Throw all of these disparate sounds into one three minute record and it was sure to clash, each element contradicting or canceling out another leaving nobody truly happy in the end.

Yet the exact opposite happened, as the slightly hipper faction of the mainstream audience, having had their resistance to the flashier and more obscene sounds of the pure rock sides lessened in time, wouldn’t be quite so dismissive of that type of playing in short bursts here, while the familiarity of the songs themselves meant they had solid melodies to work from. Lastly, the vibes gave the records a distinctiveness that set them apart and, considering Johnny Otis’s use of them over the past year and a half, weren’t completely alien to rock fans.

He may not have planned this as intricately as all that, but the result was Earl Bostic was entering his commercial heyday, the one sax star who could still succeed in rock while at the same time transcending it.


In Our Dreams They Creep
Though this is indeed a pretty decent song with an agreeable melody and one that a decade from now rocker Little Willie John would score big with in a vocal rendition, meaning it must have had something about it that rock fans could embrace, the fact of the matter is on THIS record it is Earl Bostic and Earl Bostic alone that connected it to our realm.

But considering he’s the star of the show and one of the best musicians in the world, maybe that’s enough.

At first glance though you think it must be some kind of perverse joke, another of those ill-fated attempts by the record industry to force our unruly mob to adopt some culture in their music, as this trades off between sax and vibes on a stuttering intro before Bostic eases into the song like a weary man getting in a steaming hot bath, ready to go to Sleep no doubt.

But once he’s submerged the playing becomes more aggressive. His tone is still a little glassy at first, but he’s not stuck in that mode, but rather just using it to transition from the modest start to a more muscular solo. Once he gets up to speed he’s playing with some genuine grit and passion, squeezing the melody tight rather than gently caressing it and that makes a world of difference.

It’s still identifiable to the blue hairs who’d danced to it almost thirty years earlier, but it’s taken on a more youthful appearance for the modern world, an attitude that is appealing enough to the kids while not being so truculent to offend their elders. That’s a thin line to walk but for the most part Bostic doesn’t falter, giving us two extended workouts on his sax that have all of the brazen power of a tenor while still maintaining the tonal flexibility of the alto.

As for the rest of the band though… that might be a slightly different story.

When The Joys Of Day Fade Away
To be fair the bachelor pad aesthetic IS generally an enjoyable sound to get into, provided you’re in the right frame of mind heading in. But coming in the midst of something more guttural it seems more of a diversion at best and a distraction at worst.

It’s not the presence of the vibes themselves that is the issue, as Johnny Otis showed plenty of times they can be a solid addition to a more traditional rock lineup, but they had to be used sparingly for them to make best use of their time as they have a tendency to overstay their welcome on a more robust track such as Sleep where they get an extended soloing spot between Bostic’s two showcases.

If this were done more as a transition from one to the other, say eight bars, then it’d be a quirky interlude. Instead it lasts 45 seconds with nothing to distract you other than trying to discern what the band or guys in the booth are saying to one another that bled onto the tapes.

My guess is they were wondering why René Hall on guitar didn’t jump in after the first six seconds when there was a break, then after playing some fiery licks of his own to change the mood he could’ve handed off to Clifton Smalls on piano to rattle the ivories for a bit, by which time Gene Redd could’ve put down those mallets he was using for the vibes, picked up his trumpet and blew a quick refrain before Bostic came roaring back to take it to the finish line.

In that scenario the vibes are still playing a role in the arrangement, giving this some added character, but aren’t trying to elbow their way into the starring part. Maybe in some high class nightclub the extended vibe interlude would’ve been more well received, but on record – particularly one for the jukebox trade that rock fans gravitated towards, it’d be almost assured of causing you to doze off and have the record live up to its title.

At The Close Of Day
You can’t fault his instincts, since this was Bostic’s first national hit in three years, though it took months to crack the charts, but whether or not you feel the unique arrangement bolstered the track or detracted from it may vary greatly from one person to another.

No matter which venue you put this record in, the split personality of Sleep is going to work to its disadvantage aesthetically. The noisier segments don’t fit the bachelor pad motif and the dreamier middle part is a snooze to the people who want to dance to instrumentals, not use them as a lullaby.

Yet while it may not be completely satisfying to either end of the spectrum, this record might be the first sign that in between those different constituencies there was a third group of listeners occupying the middle ground, a segment of the audience whose tastes were becoming more malleable as time went on and they were exposed to more diverse extremes, who found in this a perfect compromise.

We’re not quite on board with that perspective, though it’s nice enough to be modestly recommended, but while it may not position Earl Bostic at the front of the rock movement any more than he has been in the past, hit or not, it’s also not something that any of us can say we’re surprised by after all of the unexpected side roads he’s taken us down in the past.


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