A 7 year old gets introduced to Jazz (and is never the same again).
’Before I wanted to play the drums I wanted to play the Alto Sax. Earl Bostic’s Flamingo was the record that turned me on to Jazz’ (Charlie Watts)
Up until the age of 7 I lived in Church Street, Paddington, just over a mile from Marble Arch the landmark that stands as the official centre of London.
Also a mile or so away was Abbey Road Studios where just before my 7th Birthday The Beatles began their epochal recording career.
Nearby was St Johns Wood Library.
Less than half a mile away from home was my parish church and the school where I began my academic studies.
Such were the coordinates of my early life.
Right at the centre, of course, was the home I shared with my parents and my younger brother.
Three rooms above a Betting Shop – a bedroom partitioned in two, a small living room and a tiny kitchen.
Outside torrents of sound from Church Street Market where you could buy anything from a hair piece to a hula hoop to a handsaw (and I dare say if you knew the right man to ask you could buy a Hawk too).
Now, I can’t swear the boy in the picture below is me (though his look and aura matches mine) but I do remember standing in some awe listening to the Salvation Army Sisters preach and sing uplifting hymns with the aim of saving souls.
Remember what those clever Jesuits said :
‘Give me a child for his first 7 years and I will give you the man.’
In my case almost certainly true.
The 7 year old Tom was; an obsessive reader, a hundred mile an hour talker and questioner and someone who always wanted to know the who, what, when, where and why about every topic that flashed across the mind.
Both my parents worked long hours in demanding jobs – looking back I must have exhausted them with my relentless enquiries yet they rarely showed any impatience with their effervescent son.
One, nigh infallible, way to staunch my chatter was to play music on the radio or even better to let me cue up a 45 on our Ferguson Radiogram (the pride of our Living Room).
You’ll know some of these as I’ve written about them here :
‘Runaround Sue’ by Dion,
‘Walking Back to Happiness’ by Helen Shapiro,
‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins and,
’Stranger on The Shore’ by Acker Bilk.
Where did we buy our records?
Why, where else but from a stall just yards from our door – in Church Street Market.
Listening to the stall holders was my introduction to spiel and patter and the art of the dramatic soliloquy :
’Now, listen here, gather round, I’ve got juicy tomatoes and melons as big as Sophia Loren’s’
’If you want your whites whiter than white you’ve got no right to go anywhere but John White’s right here!’
’I got cockles and I’ve got mussels, I’ve got eels all the way from the Sargasso Sea – have these every day and your brain will grow as big as Einstein’s’
And, my favourite clarion call :
’If its in the top 10 I’ve got it. If Elvis sang it, I’ve got it.
If its been on the bloomin’ BBC or Luxembourg I’ve got it.
If you can’t remember the name but you can hum it I’ll bet i’ve got it!’
That last peroration from Sid (Symphony Sid of course) who became my favourite stall holder and my most important teacher.
I took to hanging around Sid’s stall when he was closing up for the evening (don’t bother me when I’ve got customers queueing up boy!).
When he was packing up the vinyl treasure it was my chance to ask questions :
‘ I love Twisting The Night Away – tell me about Sam Cooke?
’well boy there ain’t no one alive or dead who sings as naturally as Sam. ‘Course you oughta know that his very best singing, his very best ain’t any of the pop stuff. No! If you want that you’ve got to listen to his gospel stuff with The Soul Stirrers – those records would make a believer out of the deepest atheist I’m telling you!’
’Some people say Elvis is no good since he went in the army but I think, ‘His Latest Flame’ is fantastic – how about you?
’Now Boy, you don’t want to be giving the time of day to those kind of people. I’m telling you 50 years from now the people who really know (and you might be one of ‘em) will tell you that (Marie’s the name) His Latest Flame backed with Little Sister might just be the greatest 45 that anyone, anyone, ever recorded!’
Weeks later he would test me to see if I’d been listening (if you don’t listen close Boy you ain’t ever gonna learn nothin’) :
’What was the gospel group Sam Cooke started out with?’
‘That would be The Soul Stirrers Sid!’
’Good Boy – Look I’ve got a copy here of Del Shannon’s Runaway with just a tiny scratch, fantastic sound that’ll put a your head in a swirl .. take that home now and let me pack up the van in peace.’
’Boy, what was on the other side of ‘His Latest Flame’?
’Easy, Sid, easy that would be Little Sister’.
’Spot on Boy – now I’ve got something special for you here been untouched on the back of this stall for many a year now but I’m telling you this one will outlast all your pop palaver … Earl Bostic playing the Alto Sax on ‘Flamingo’ .. got this off the Jukebox in an American Base .. listen to this Boy, it’ll put hairs on your chest and give you a whole new kind of dreams!’
And, that was how at 7 I got introduced to Jazz, the Alto Saxophone, Earl Bostic and Flamingo!
Now, it took another 7 years before those hairs sprouted on my chest but he was absolutely right about the dreams.
From the moment I first heard Earl’s fruity tone on the Alto Sax I was gone, solid gone.
I had never heard music with such blood and guts life force.
And, dig those Vibes!
Listening to Flamingo I was transported to a shadowy, black and white world where knives flashed and dames smiled dangerously from the doorways of clubs no one like me should ever be allowed to imagine let alone enter.
But that’s the great thing about imagination – once it’s released it’s released and there ain’t t no going back.
Earl became my idol and I drove Sid three quarters mad asking him to find me more Bostic.
Over the next few months along more Bostic beauties : ‘Temptation’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘You Go to My Head’, ‘Sleep’ and, ‘UpThere in Orbit’.
Each new disc became a sacred object for me.
Compared to the full bodied vigour of Earl Bostic most everything else seemed parched and anaemic.
But, like they say, you never forget your first and Flamingo was my first foray into Jazz.
Since then of course I’ve found out that Earl was a legendary saxophone technician with complete mastery of his horn.
I discovered that stellar Jazzers like Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Tony Scott, Stanley Turrentine and the blessed John Coltrane himself all played with and were influenced by Earl.
I learned that Earl believed Jazz should never lose sight of The Blues.
Blues had a character that got under the skin and a canny musician could extemporise around that character and have people smile and dance and spend their hard earned money freely.
Earl was very successful because you knew an Earl Bostic Record was going to be an unalloyed pleasure and that you would never, ever, grow tired of listening to Earl’s imperious sound.
Many years later, he became even more of a favourite when I came across a record called, ‘Brooklyn Boogie’ featuring the great Louis Prima and members of my favourite Baseball outfit The Brooklyn Dodgers and reading the credits realised it was written by none other than Earl Bostic!
There’s a legendary figure on the British Jazz scene called Victor Schonfield and I take my hat off to him for this summation of Earl Bostic’s career :
’.. his greatest gift was the way he communicated through his horn a triumphant joy in playing and being, much like Louis Armstrong and only a few others have done’
Bravo Victor and Bravo Bostic!
I’ll leave you with a little more personal history.
One of the many discoveries of our series of house moves over the last few years was a clutch of faded yellow exercise books from my primary school days.
Digging out the book from Spring Term 1962 I see that in very careful script I had answered a series of questions posed by the saintly Sister Mildred as follows :
Favourite Colour – Purple
Favourite Food – Fish and Chips
Favourite Football Team – Spurs
Favourite Book – Treasure Island
Favourite Music – Earl Bostic Flamingo!
Fifty Seven years have rolled around since then but I have to say I’m not minded to change a single answer.
Take it away Earl.
Blow, Mr Bostic, Blow!
I unreservedly recommend, ‘The Earl Bostic Story’ on the Proper Label.
Four CDs, 106 tracks of sheer joy.