One of the more interesting jazzmen on the scene in New York City during the heyday of bebop was Allen Eager. As noted in the literate and information liner notes by Ira Gitler, who witnessed much of the 52nd Street jazz in the late 1940’s, Eager’s star rose fast, even in his late teens. In fact, Eager attracted so much attention that Jack Kerouac fashioned the character Roger Beloit in his novel, The Subterraneans,
after Eager, so cool was Eager. He was the epitome of "cool" at the time when the term was used to describe the attitude of the beboppers, and before the coolness of West Coast jazz set in. And yet, Eager’s descent from public consciousness was as rapid as his rise, and by the late 1950’s, he struggled to regain favor among listeners. Eventually, Eager moved to Florida and raced cars, then to California to work with The Mothers of Invention, and then to Miami, where he retired.
Coincidentally, the release of In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee
is the occasion of unfortunate perfect timing. Eager passed away on April 13, 2003. Thus, the CD, complete with 14 previously unreleased Allen Eager tracks, serves as a retrospective of his almost-forgotten career from the late 1940’s--when he recorded with Charlie Parker and Max Roach--to the early 1950’s--when he performed for a broadcast at the Hi-Hat in Boston.
With painstaking dedication and respect for the subject of the recording, producer Robert Sunenblick has meticulously compiled a comprehensive tribute to the saxophonist, as he did so well with Charles "Baron" Mingus: West Coast 1945-49.
Even though the recording is but 64 minutes long, the average length of today’s CD’s, the booklet in the package contains 68 pages--including a late-in-life interview with Eager, Gitler’s reminiscences and appreciation of the tracks, biographies of the also-forgotten sidemen, and numerous photographs. Since several of the tracks were recorded in the studio of photographer Milton H, Greene, the final pages of the booklet contain some of Greene’s photos.
But the music....
Because Eager didn’t remain on the scene, a casualty of drugs and the drying up of performing opportunities, his sound and persona aren’t remembered as clearly as, say, Buddy Rich’s or Woody Herman’s, in whose groups he played. An early devotee of Lester Young’s style and then Charlie Parker’s, Eager’s approach developed into his own, rougher than some of the other white saxophonists’, and yet more relaxed than some of the more aggressive beboppers’.In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee
basically consists of three sessions, with some of the personnel being changed according to now-unknown reasons: a 1953 Sunday afternoon session at the Hi-Hat in Boston, announced by Symphony Sid; one track from the Adventures in Jazz
television program in 1947; and three 1947 sessions in Greene’s studio.
As is too often the case with jazz musicians, they are appreciated too late, in many cases after they are gone. But at least they are appreciated, and in the case of In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee,
lavishly at that. Unfortunately, Eager didn’t survive long enough to see the results of this devoted appreciation.