He played some tenor and soprano too, but concentrated almost exclusively on alto - and you won't find an alto player with a better technique than Earl Bostic - in fact you won't find one to equal him either, not even Charles Parker. Bostic was just awesome. Added to that he had a superb sense of phrasing, of melody and of dynamics. The one area you might fault him is in slow sentimental ballads, where he had difficulty harnessing his technical mastery to the presentation of a beautiful melody almost totally unadorned.
He was from Oklahoma, but he went to Xavier University in New Orleans and played in Fate Marable's band on the riverboats. The leading altoist in New Orleans in those years was Captain John Handy, who recalled that Bostic often came to hear him play at various gigs in New Orleans (as did Louis Jordan, too, by the way). Bostic's mature style, with its strong rhythmic attack and its rasping tone owes a hell of a lot to Handy. The Handy influence is strongest in recordings like Flamingo
, which was a big hit for Bostic. However, his mastery of the altissimo was all his own work. It was a challenge, so he set out to master it, and succeeded, as no one else has done, before or since.
Just about every recording Bostic made - and there were hundreds and hundreds of them - is available on YouTube, which says something about his appeal. Here are the two recordings which for me best exemplify Bostic's music:
And for the altissimo, you won't find a better example than Up There in Orbit