Allen Eager (January 10, 1927 – April 13, 2003) was an American jazz tenor and alto saxophonist who also competed in auto racing and took part in LSD experiments.
Allen Eager was born in New York City on January 10, 1927. He grew up in the Bronx. According to Denise McCluggage, Eager could read aged 3, and learned to drive at the age of 9 with the help of his mother, after she caught him driving a garbage truck near the hotels that his parents owned in the Catskill Mountains. He took clarinet lessons with David Weber of the New York Philharmonic at the age of 13.
Early career in jazz
Eager briefly played with Woody Herman at the age of 15. At the same age, he took heroin for the first time. Aged 16, he played in the band of Bobby Sherwood, then went on to play with Sonny Dunham, Shorty Sherock, and Hal McIntyre. Eager was then with Herman again in 1943–44, Tommy Dorsey, and Johnny Bothwell in 1945. After World War II he became a regular on the scene around 52nd Street in New York; he led his own ensemble there from 1945–47. His recording debut as leader was for Savoy Records in February 1946. His band consisted of Ed Finckel (piano), Bob Carter (bass), and Max Roach (drums); two of the tracks formed Eager's first release as leader. His playing style on tenor saxophone was, along with contemporary saxophonists Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Al Cohn and others, strongly influenced by Lester Young; Eager appears to have been the first of this group to follow Young's light sound on tenor, and was the best known and most respected of them at that point. Young's assessment was that "Allen Eager is [...] the best of the grey boys [white players]". At the same time as following Young in sound, Eager also adopted the musical forms pioneered in bebop. He also adopted the drug dependency of a lot of the bebop players in the 1940s.
Unusually for a white saxophonist of the time, Eager was a member of several bands led by black musicians. These included Coleman Hawkins, with whom he recorded in 1946, and beboppers Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker in 1947. Eager recorded with trumpeter Red Rodney for Keynote Records in 1947.:91 Also in the late 1940s, Eager recorded with saxophonist Stan Getz. Eager also played with Tadd Dameron at the Royal Roost in New York in 1948. Some of these concerts were broadcast on the radio. Critic Ira Gitler commented positively on the concerts: "Whatever he played swung with a happy, light-footed quality and pure-toned beauty".:218
From around this period, some rich women "sought out jazz musicians for a connection to a way of life otherwise denied them". One of these, heiress Peggy Mellon Hitchcock, became associated with Eager, and the pair often appeared in newspaper gossip columns. One instance was much later, when a court case that highlighted the fact that Eager had borrowed $48,500 from her attracted publicity.
Eager played with Gerry Mulligan in 1951, with Terry Gibbs in 1952, and shortly after with Buddy Rich. He then briefly abandoned music and became a ski and horse riding instructor. Eager's drug addiction could clearly be linked to his music career, as Ira Gitler noted: "when he was skiing or horseback riding and completely away from music, he was healthy, but every time he returned to his tenor, the demon that pursued Bird [Charlie Parker] found him again".:218 From 1953 to 1955 he again led his own ensemble as a saxophonist. He frequently played with Howard McGhee, including in Chicago in early 1956. He lived in Paris from 1956 to 1957, and continued playing there. Back in the U.S. in 1957, Eager recorded The Gerry Mulligan Songbook under Mulligan's leadership, which was his last recording for 25 years. After this, he essentially retired from jazz. Eager mentioned the death of Charlie Parker (in 1955) and his own problems with drug addiction as reasons for his withdrawal from the scene. Eager appears in Jack Kerouac's 1958 book The Subterraneans as the character Roger Beloit.
Eager went on to pursue other activities such as skiing, competitive auto racing, and LSD experiments with Timothy Leary. He became a ski patroller when the Hunter Mountain ski resort opened, and was there introduced to racing car driver Denise McCluggage. After some instruction from McCluggage, the pair raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1961 in a Ferrari 250 GT, finishing tenth overall, first in GT and first in class. Encouraged by their success, they flew the car to Europe and took part in the 1000 km Nürburgring; Eager crashed. They entered an O.S.C.A. for the 1962 Sebring race, in which Eager and Ken Miles collided, and for a race at the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, at which McCluggage crashed. In July 1963 a serious crash left Eager with broken bones.
Eager occasionally dabbled in music again, playing alto saxophone with Charles Mingus at the rival Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. Ira Gitler noted that "The years away from his horn had made him rusty; moreover, the old fire and fine timing were heard only in fleeting moments".:218 In the late 1960s he settled in Florida with his family. He played with Frank Zappa in the 1970s. In 1982 Eager made a comeback with an album for Uptown Records, entitled Renaissance.:190–92 The pianist for this quartet session, Hod O'Brien, remembers Eager making a very slow start: "it was as though he had never blown a sax before [... but] slowly and surely, the lines got clearer and longer. It was as though he learned to play again in the space of half an hour".:190 O'Brien described Eager as "a temperamental guy":190 who, during a first-night concert around the time of their recording, fired the rhythm section that had been hired to play with him, because he wanted to change from playing straight-ahead jazz to free.:191 Eager toured with Dizzy Gillespie in 1983. Eager played in England in May of the same year, playing jazz standards in his familiar 1940s style that included "terse, sidelong phrases". Some other tours in Europe were with Chet Baker.
He died from liver cancer on April 13, 2003, in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was survived by his ex-wife, Nancy, two daughters, a son, and two granddaughters.
This section contains only albums, some of which were made up in part of tracks previously or simultaneously released as singles. Tracks and albums have often been reissued and repackaged; where possible, only an early release is listed.
An asterisk (*) indicates that the date is that of release.
|1982*||Renaissance||Uptown Records||Quartet, with Hod O'Brien (piano), Teddy Kotick (bass), Jimmy Wormworth (drums)|
|1946||Hawkins, ColemanColeman Hawkins||New 52nd Street Jazz||RCA||Eager plays on four tracks; the others are by a Dizzy Gillespie group|
|1948||Dameron, TaddTadd Dameron||Fats Navarro Featured with the Tadd Dameron Quintet||Jazzland||With Fats Navarro (trumpet), Rudy Williams (alto sax), Curly Russell (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums); radio broadcast|
|1948||Dameron, TaddTadd Dameron||The Tadd Dameron Band 1948||Jazzland||With Fats Navarro (trumpet), Rudy Williams (alto sax), Curly Russell (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums); radio broadcast|
|1948||Navarro, FatsFats Navarro||The Fabulous Fats Navarro, Vol. 2||Blue Note||With Wardell Gray (tenor sax), Tadd Dameron (piano), Curly Russell (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), Chino Pozo (bongos)|
|1949||Getz, StanStan Getz||Stan Getz, Vol. 1||New Jazz||With Al Cohn, Brew Moore, Zoot Sims (tenor saxes), Stan Getz (tenor sax, baritone sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Gene Ramey (bass), Charlie Perry (drums)|
|1949||Getz, StanStan Getz||The Brothers||Original Jazz Classics||Personnel as on Stan Getz, Vol. 1|
|1951||Mulligan, GerryGerry Mulligan||Mulligan Plays Mulligan||Prestige|
|1954||Handy, GeorgeGeorge Handy||Handyland USA||Label "X"||With Ernie Royal (trumpet), Dave Schildkraut (alto sax), Kai Winding (trombone), Vinnie Burke (bass), Art Mardigan (drums)|
|1955||Fruscella, TonyTony Fruscella||Tony Fruscella||Atlantic|
|1957||Mulligan, GerryGerry Mulligan||The Gerry Mulligan Songbook||Prestige||With Lee Konitz (alto sax), Zoot Sims (tenor sax, alto sax), Al Cohn (tenor sax, baritone sax), Freddie Green (guitar), Henry Grimes (bass), Dave Bailey (drums)|
|1957||Mulligan, GerryGerry Mulligan||Mosaic Select 21||Mosaic|
Compilations that include previously unreleased recordings
|1946–47||Brothers and Other Mothers||Savoy||Compiles singles and alternative takes from various leaders, plus tracks without Eager|
|1947||Brothers and Other Mothers, Vol. 2||Savoy||Compiles singles and alternative takes from various leaders, plus tracks without Eager|
|1947||Saturday Night Swing Session||Counterpoint||Led by Fats Navarro (trumpet), with Bill Harris (trombone), Charlie Ventura (tenor sax), Ralph Burns (piano), Al Valente (guitar), Chubby Jackson (bass), Buddy Rich (drums); radio broadcast, plus tracks without Eager|
|1947||Anthropology||Spotlite||With Fats Navarro (trumpet), John LaPorta (clarinet), Charlie Parker (alto sax), Lennie Tristano (piano), Billy Bauer, (guitar), Tommy Potter (bass), Buddy Rich (drums); radio broadcast, plus tracks without Eager|
|1947||The Complete Keynote Collection||Mercury||Compiles singles and alternative takes from various leaders, plus tracks without Eager. Tracks with him are led by Red Rodney (trumpet), with Serge Chaloff (baritone sax), Al Haig (piano), Chubby Jackson (bass), Tiny Kahn (drums)|
|1948||Al Haig Meets the Master Saxes, Vol. 2||Spotlite||Combines sessions led by Eager, Dave Lambert, all featuring Al Haig (piano)|
|1947–53||In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee, 1947–1953||Uptown||Compiles 1947 private recording, 1949 television performance, 1953 concert broadcast|