Jazz was so crowded with talent in the 1950s that it's easy for great artists from the decade to slip into obscurity today. This is especially true of trumpet players. We fixate on Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown, not to mention Dizzy Gillespie, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Roy Eldridge. Rightfully so, but there were plenty of others. One who deserves much more recognition than he has received thus far is Jon Eardley. Among his finest recording sessions are two from the mid-'50s with alto saxophonist Phil Woods.
Eardley was fundamentally a bop trumpeter who started recording with Charlie Parker and Joe Timer and the Orchestra in the early 1950s. He recorded extensively with Gerry Mulligan throughout the decade and led his own quartet on record sessions. In the early '60s, Eardley moved to Belgium, where he remained and built a strong following until his death in 1991.
What made Eardley special during the '50s was his ability to blow hot but with laid-back distinction. The faster the tempo, the more harmoniously rich he would become, taking on a rolling, punctuating style akin to West Coasters Don Fagerquist, Dick Collins and Baker.
Eardley recorded several albums with Woods mid-decade, but among his finest were Phil Woods: New Jazz Quintet in October 1954 and Phil Woods: New Jazz Quartet in February 1955. Later in the '50s, the two superb albums were combined on a 12-inch Prestige release called Pot Pie. On both dates, the musicians were Jon Eardley (tp) Phil Woods (as) George Syran (p) Teddy Kotick (b) and Nick Stabulas (d).
Pot Pie opens with the title track, a cool interpretation of Sippin' at Bells. Open Door is an uptempo minor piece that pays tribute to the Greenwich Village club where all of the musicians on this date gathered often for jam sessions. Or dig Eardley's clean, lyrical solo on the blazing Robbin's Bobbin' and pensive intensity on the ballad Mad About the Boy. Cobblestones also is uptempo, again featuring Eardley with a solo that wanders up and down the scales cleanly and is never dull. Too's Blues is a walking ballad. Sea Beach and Horseshoe Curve are corkscrews featuring tricky melody lines.
For more on Eardley, there's a fast-moving interview with him in 1978 by Les Tomkins here. Eardley had a sound that fit in just fine on both coasts. But with work drying up here in the '60s, he found his way to Europe, where he fit in just fine.
JazzWax tracks: Phil Woods and Jon Eardley's Pot Pie is available at download sites and for sampling and purchase here. It's ferocious from start to finish.
JazzWax clips: Here's Jon Eardley with the Gerry Mulligan Septet playing Bernie's Tune in Milan in 1956. What a front line: Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims and Eardley, who solos 1:47 into the clip...
Here's Eardley leading a session for Prestige in January 1956 called Jon Eardley Seven. On the date: Eardley (tp) Milt Gold (tb) Phil Woods (as) Zoot Sims (ts) George Syran (p) Teddy Kotick (b) and Nick Stabulas (d).