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Bostic “Knows Many a Trick”

Saxophonist Earl Bostic

Bostic’s Influence on Coltrane:

A profound and essential element of music is its ability to influence and shape subsequent generations. One such example is the effect of the trailblazing saxophonist, Earl Bostic, on the illustrious John Coltrane. Though Coltrane is often seen as an icon in the world of jazz, his early days were significantly shaped by Bostic, a critical yet sometimes overlooked figure in this rich tapestry of music.

Earl Bostic, born on April 25, 1913, was a formidable force in the realm of rhythm and blues and jazz. His technique was unparalleled; his command over the alto saxophone was simply mesmerizing. Bostic’s electrifying performances and his ability to masterfully blend jazz with R&B set a benchmark for the saxophonists that followed.

In the early 1950s, Coltrane spent some time in Bostic’s band, an experience that was formative for his musical development. This tenure was integral to Coltrane’s maturation as a saxophonist. It exposed him to a wide range of styles and techniques, particularly Bostic’s approach to the alto saxophone, with its bluesy inflection and expressive power.

While Bostic is often associated with commercial rhythm and blues, his technical prowess was second to none, something that deeply impressed Coltrane. Bostic’s dexterity, breath control, and mastery over the altissimo range of the saxophone, an extremely high register that many saxophonists struggle to play, were features that significantly influenced Coltrane’s approach to his instrument.

It was under Bostic’s influence that Coltrane began developing his unique “sheets of sound” technique, where he played a flurry of notes that sounded almost like arpeggios, creating a wall of harmonics. Observers of Coltrane’s style often point to the influence of Bostic in this innovative technique.

Coltrane himself acknowledged Bostic’s influence, once stating that “Bostic knew his instrument inside out, forward and backward, and he had technique to burn.” The robust, fiery, and passionate sounds that Bostic produced became a part of Coltrane’s own style, though Coltrane would eventually move towards a more exploratory, spiritual kind of jazz.

Bostic was also a bandleader, and his approach to leading his band was also a learning point for Coltrane. The discipline and professionalism of Bostic’s band were aspects that Coltrane admired and incorporated when he formed his own bands later.

While Earl Bostic’s name might not be as recognizable as John Coltrane’s today, the impact he had on Coltrane’s development as an artist is immeasurable. Bostic’s virtuosity and innovative approach to the saxophone played a crucial role in shaping Coltrane’s style and technique, and by extension, the broader landscape of jazz music. So, as we appreciate the profound musicality of John Coltrane, let’s also remember the legacy of Earl Bostic, whose influence continues to resonate in the annals of jazz history.

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