Allen Eager: Land of Oo-Bla-Dee - JazzWax

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July 20, 2010


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Joel Lewis

Does anyone know anything more about Eager's engagement with Frank Zappa? When I was a kid & working in Bob Porter's jazz shop, our bop-crazed customers seemed to hold Eager in a special place in their pantheon --they often mentioned that he played with Zappa & had become gay in later life. The Uptown disk mentions the former but is silent on the latter issue. Zappa himself was probably the most jazz-conversant of the 60s era players and actually wrote a number of wonderful jazz compositions (20 Small Cigars & King Kong come to mind) & always hired jazz oriented Hollywood studio players for his larger projects.


Loved marc's translation of Leonard Feather. I'd agree that "Oo-bla-dee" is a very nice collection, although the sound quality leaves something to be desired. The best of Eager's recordings can be found on a two disc anthology called "An Ace Face" on the Giant Steps label. This includes the complete Tony Fruscella Atlantic album (Tony's only studio recording) which is a classic consisting of six quintet tracks with Eager, two septet tracks written by Phil Sunkel that also feature some great solos by Eager, and one quartet track that Allen doesn't play on. Eager's "comeback" album was recorded in 1982 for Uptown, to mixed reviews, and hasn't been reissued. He continued to play in Florida and in obscurity. The gay thing seems unlikely given his reputation as a womanizer and the unlikeliness of someone turning in later life. Twardzik's playing on "Oo-bla-dee" probably isn't much of a surprise to anyone who's heard his trio album or recordings with Baker. There's also some nice Twardzik on "Charlie Parker: Boston 1952" (Uptown.)

Larry Kart

Eager's "comeback" was fairly ghastly. He came to the Chicago's Jazz Showcase in 1982 and could barely get around on the horn. In 1986, paired with Al Cohn, he was in somewhat better shape, but Cohn, who was in great form (as he typically was in that period), seemed almost savage in his fiercely aggressive response to Eager's wistful minimalism (which at times bordered on ineptitude). These are just guesses, of course, but I had the feeling that Al (whose playing was again magnificent) was genuinely angry at what Allen had been (I've heard tales that Eager was quite an arrogant customer in his street-beat days) and also at what he had let himself become (a musical shadow, if that).


Larry, That was a very interesting post. I've heard similar stories about Hank Mobley in his later days (sadly.) Cohn's playing had generally gotten more aggressive during that period, so you might be reading too much into that. Eager has admitted in interviews to having been rather arrogant in his youth.

Larry Kart

One should ask Ira Gitler to be sure of the "when" of this, but it's my impression that Brew Moore was right there with Eager as a personal translator/assimilator of Lester Young with bop trimmings. Here is Moore with Machito:


Nice solo by Brew on that clip! Eager was doing that Young/bop thing in the late '40s along with Getz and others. The earliest Moore stuff that I know of is early '50s, but he may have been around earlier. Another really interesting tenor is Budd Johnson who combined Lesterish phrasing with a big "Texas Tenor" sound and aggressive attack. Budd was also musical director for Earl Hines' Grand Terrace orch. where he brought in players like Bird and Diz; as well as for the Eckstein bop band. In a further display of his versatility he later recorded with Gil Evans.

Larry Kart

Moore recorded for Savoy in October 1948; the Machito performance is from 1949.


Another great Twardzik recording is "Fable of Mabel" by Serge Chaloff.


and there's a Mariano record on which Dick plays bongos with one hand and piano with the other.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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