Negotiating the bop minefields, serious as a heart attack

Bolting into the stratosphere
photo: Mosaic Records
Bolting into the stratosphere

The story goes that Roy Eldridge put his trumpet away in 1980, after being warned by his doctor that he would have to play softly and stick to the lower registers if he wanted to avoid another heart attack. Hearing him bolt into the stratosphere at full volume on many of the performances anthologized on Mosaic's The Complete Verve Roy Eldridge Studio Sessions, the effect is so gripping you might fear you're suffering one yourself. Though Eldridge was only 40 when he signed with Norman Granz—about as old as Douglas and Marsalis—middle age started earlier then, and bebop fooled many of that day's listeners into thinking Eldridge and other swing-era gladiators were over the hill. Many of them sought refuge in modified Dixieland or the muted posh of Bobby Hackett or Jonah Jones, and we hear Eldridge occasionally trying on both styles—with considerable aplomb—over the nine years covered on these seven discs. But he was at his best when he let it rip, without disguising his sneaky modernist bent. You want to talk trumpet battles, his confrontations with Dizzy Gillespie from 1954 and '56 are the real deal (Sweets Edison, there for the rematch, is a noncombatant). Among its other goodies, the box includes a suave 1955 session with Benny Carter I've never gotten enough of, raging impromptu duets with drummer Alvin Stoller, a stabbing remake of "Rockin' Chair," and any number of solos you better be holding onto your chair for when he goes up high.

 
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