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Lester-influenced tenorman of the bebop eraby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2003 Todd S. Jenkins
Allen Eager was part of the famed "Four Brothers" circle of white tenormen who passionately emulated Lester Young's style in the 1950s, making the light, leisurely tone a signature sound of bop and cool jazz.
In his teen years Eager made the rounds of big bands led by Shorty Sherock, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Hal McIntyre and others. He began his career as a leader in 1946, recording for Savoy with a young Max Roach. He gained valuable bebop experience in Tadd Dameron's band alongside Fats Navarro and Wardell Gray, then went on to work with Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Rich, Tony Fruscella and Terry Gibbs.
In 1956, battling a drug habit and unfairly overshadowed by Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and other Prez acolytes, Eager retreated from the limelight to clean up and refocus. He explored several other ventures, including race-car driving and skiing.
In 1972 Eager and his family retired to Florida, where he remained as active as possible in Miami's small jazz scene. Renaissance, his 1982 comeback album, helped to revive his spirit and interest in performing. Eager toured occasionally but kept his activities low-key, preferring to focus upon his family.
Sadly, his cancer was only diagnosed less than three weeks before his death. He is survived by his widow, Nancy; two daughters, Omine and Zoe; and one son, Jacob.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.
Bill Crow remembers Allen Eagerby Bill Crow
Copyright © 2003 Bill Crow
Writer and musician Bill Crow remembers Allen Eager
Allen was an interesting guy. A real chameleon. He could learn things faster than anyone I ever met. He went to Aspen once for his first adventure on skis, and stayed on for a while as an instructor. He entered a brand new Ferrari he had bought in New York and driven to Florida at Sebring. He won his heat, having never driven in a race before. ("I read a book about it once," he said.)
When he was young, Allen fell in love with Ben Webster's playing and memorized all his solos from Duke's records. He went uptown and found the hotel where Ben was living, knocked on his door and asked if Ben would take him as a pupil. He got out his tenor and played Ben's solo on "Cottontail," sounding just like him. Ben ran down the hall and knocked on a friends door: "Come in here and hear what this little white boy is playing!"
He wouldn't teach Allen, but he let him hang around, and Allen sort of became his protegé. Then Allen went to California, where he heard and fell in love with Lester Young. He changed his mouthpiece and reed and began sounding just like Lester. When he returned to NYC, he got a gig on the Street, and Ben heard about it and went down to see his boy. He couldn't believe his ears.
Unfortunately, Allen's ability to learn fast was coupled with the ability to lose interest in things quickly, and he also spent a lot of his time getting high in various ways.
He turned up in Provincetown while I was playing up there one summer with Zoot, and sat in with us on alto. He sounded like he was out of practice, and I think he was trying to avoid imitating Bird. Anyway, I didn't enjoy his playing as much as I had when he was playing tenor.
But whenever I ran into him, it was always an enjoyable encounter, because Allen was a charming, interesting man of many talents. I hadn't heard of him for years, other that that he was living in Florida, and then last year a friend sent me a picture of him that he had taken at a jazz festival in California.
(thanks to Eric LeBlanc)^ Top
Bill Crow is a bass player and writer. He is the author of Jazz Anecdotes.