Booker Ervin: Exultation! (1963) Prestige

Under-rated Tenors Series: Booker Ervin


Selection: No Land’s Man (Perkins)


Frank Strozier (alto sax) Booker Ervin (tenor sax) Horace Parlan (piano) Butch Warren (bass) Walter Perkins (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 19, 1963

Following the familiar path of military service, then college music education, the young Texan Booker Ervin cut his music teeth playing rhythm and blues, teaching himself tenor. Moving east, a chance encounter with Horace Parlan opened up an audition opportunity with Mingus, where he quickly found a place in the creative cauldron which launched so many fine players in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Able to navigate Mingus complex scores, Ervin also shone in solo, paired with Dolphy’s wild alto excursions.  His hard-driving tenor is heard on all Mingus’s key albums of this period including Ah Um, Blues and Roots, At Antibes, and Mingus Five.

Exultation! is a fairly early title with Ervin as leader, recorded not long after That’s It! – an album for the short-lived Candid label. Soon after he went on to record the Book series for Prestige: Freedom Book, Song Book, Blues Book, and Space Book, each with its own rotating cast of players. Extra tunes from the Blues Book sessions appear on Groovin’ High.  Not one to run out of ideas, these titles saw him stretching out more and more.

Many of Ervin’s album titles include the streetwise apostrophe in place of “g” or end in a shriek mark so you know what to expect: excitement! A long run of albums  through the ’60s went on to include recordings for Blue Note and Pacific Jazz, but came to a dead halt in 1970, when The Book closed, unexpectedly early, at the age of only 39.

Booker Ervin’s discography spans Columbia, Atlantic, Prestige, Impulse, Blue Note, and Pacific Jazz, ensuring that most all of his recorded work benefits from top class recording, and many by Van Gelder.


Just when you think you have enough shriek-mark titled albums, along comes another!

The liner notes to his first album as leader, Cookin’, for Savoy (1960), introduced Booker Ervin thus:

Ervin plays tenor with a wild sweetness, with dizzying velocity, and an angular modernity which is not devoid of personal warmth, beauty, and humor….a rising jazz star, who has paid 11 years of “dues” to bring to you his message.

No-one quite sounds like The Book, you could pick him out within seconds of a blind listening test. Stylistically probably closer to Coltrane than any other major tenor figure, Ervin’s biting urgent tone drives all before it. His distinctive voice combines runs at  relentless speed with a faltering vibrato, punctuated with a characteristic wail.  He cooks, and cooks with passion and at length.

His partner in brass here is the more bluesy Frank Strozier on alto, which pushes Ervin further “out”, not to occupy the same space. Parlan commands a seat in the front row too, and the quintet fires on all five cylinders.

Vinyl: Prestige PR 7293

Blue/silver trident label, Van Gelder Stereo master.

A number of excellent Parlan/Ervin sessions turn up under Booker’s name in the Blue Note  “Back from The Gig” two-fer (essential listening), but not those featured here, which may explain why Exultation! seems a harder album to find.  Blue/silver trident pressings generally always sound bright and punchy, especially those recorded by Van Gelder,  at Englewood Cliffs, prime Blue Note territory.



Collector’s Corner

Exultation! has been a gap in my Booker collection for a long time. It  rarely seemed to turn up, and eluded me when it did. When it finally showed up the other week on an Ebay Buy-it-Now offer, via an email notification from my searches, no time was wasted, it was bought now (if not sooner). It was one of half-dozen Booker Prestige titles on offer, clearly a collection of a fan, and the one I was missing was in there among them. At last!

Buy-it-Now differs from auctions where sellers sit back and let the market decide value. I imagine the vinyl sales staffers toiling away all day, researching the original status of the pressings,  grading the vinyl, writing up the descriptions, and then nail-biting decision time, to setting the offer price for each title. So much for this one (consults Goldmine) so much for that one (consults Popsike) and so much for the final one (consult Discogs), hoping they have got it about right (then adding a bit for luck).

It must happen the way you see it Hollywood movie scenes. Darkened room, blue-lit, with bank of computer screens, lots men in white shirts sit punching away at keyboards, some talking into microphones. People hurry back and forth, armed with sheaves of papers. The Chief on the bridge, overlooking, nurses his ulcer, worrying about budgets.


Booker Collection!  The screen shows the count slowly in descending seconds. “Ebay Upload Complete!” The screen lights up.
Whoa! Order incoming!! Exultation!’s just gone! Pfft!! In an instant! My God!
Cuts away to large screen projecting the Western Hemisphere, bid trajectories arcing like missiles across the screen from all corners of the globe.  Woman in white lab coat stares intently at the screen. “Order originating from …People’s Republic of South London!  More incoming!”
Chief turns to Jazz Specialist, in dark glasses. black beret, goatee.

Zoot, may be you undercooked the price…”

Booker Ervin – final word

Booker Ervin may be judged as under-rated or under-appreciated by some, but not here and LJC Towers, and not I suspect by many out there. As for his first title, Cookin’ on Savoy…or the Bethlehem, I don’t think I’ve seen a copy of that before. Who knows, one might turn up, any time.

Keep watching the skies.



15 thoughts on “Booker Ervin: Exultation! (1963) Prestige

  1. I was made aware of Booker Ervin, a few years ago, by a great fellow on the Audiokarma blog. I can’t add anything of value that hasn’t already been said on this site. Thank you for posting “No Land’s Man.” I don’t know how you do it, but the clip sounds superb.

  2. Oh…quick P.S. to my earlier comments re: Booker.

    One other thing I’ve been thinking about the Book series on Prestige…just think how many ‘tenor and rhythm section’ records there are out there. Now think how many of them sound like the Booker’s? They’re unique – the Byard/Davis/Dawson team don’t sound like any other rhythm section. And, regardless of what some critics said about Book having a superficial alignment with Coltrane, these can’t be written off as Trane-clone albums. I really admire these records, not simply because they contain plenty of great jazz, but because of their passion and sincerity and individuality.
    Yes, I’m going through a bit of a Booker phase here…

    • As it often happens in this beautiful world of coincidences, I am on a jazz biography reading phase, as in your case with Booker, and recently found about your biography of Tubby Hayes, which I have placed on my list. Then, I visit this informative site a couple of days later and your comments allow me to develop a new perpective on Booker. The following day, I find your Square One vinyl record at a local store in California (they also seem to carry half of the Gearbox catalog). Now I expect to run into you at any time, win the lottery, or find a near mint copy of Mexican Green in the Bargain section. Thanks for the scholarship and for the music. I love the fact that the recording was all analog.

      I will listen to Booker with a more enlightened perspective.

  3. Excellent writing about the Book, LCJ!
    Booker Ervin is one of my favorite sax players and I think all of his records (both as leader or sideman) are essential listening!

    Never seen Exultation on LP though, but one never knows…..
    Last April for example I ran into a near mint Toshiba pressing of “Down with it” (Parlan & Ervin team up again) on Blue Note on of the biggest record fairs in Europe (Utrecht, the Netherlands) for only 35 euros. Wow!

    Regards, André

  4. Don’t forget “Setting the Pace”(Pr 7455) with Dexter and “The Trance”(Pr 7462),both with Jaki Byard and Alan Dawson(!).Booker is one of my favorite tenors!

  5. Mingus, of course, was at the origin of my adoration of the Book. How would I have known him on the other side of the pond? But then luck fell on me when I found my first Ervin album (the Book Cooks), together with Zoot’s Down Home, both on Parlophone, in a pawn shop some 55 years ago. They have been with me ever since. Each of them the best in their category.
    P.S. loved your intro LJC.

  6. I too am an Ervin fan and have the same pressing of Exultation! and a blue trident pressing of The Freedom Book. Nice words LJC and a well thought out follow up from Simon. Now I need to find a copy of Groovin’ High.

  7. Having listened to him for many years on Mingus’ records, I was nevertheless late to the party on Booker’s own albums. But now, largely thanks to this blog, I got hold of ‘Groovin’ High’ last summer and played the **** out of it. Every year I award an unofficial ‘album purchase of the year’ to a record that I’ve bought and, hands down, Groovin’ High won. I played it and played it and played it. Since then, I’ve picked up the ‘Book’ series, as well as his other albums on Bethlehem, Candid and Savoy.

    For me, Booker had his own voice – maybe not as innovative or as trend-setting as Trane or Rollins – but boy, could you recognise him in a few notes, which, back in the day of the great tenors was the name of the game.
    Surprisingly though, there’s very little information about him out there on the net, and much of it repeats what were the standard biographical outlines that came in virtually every sleeve note to his albums. It’s incredibly frustrating because, you know, there might just be a book (no pun intended) in his short, tragic life (even Wikipedia gets the date of his death wrong)…

    Looking into his life and work, I was also somewhat alarmed to find a thread about him on All About Jazz where he’s absolutely taken to pieces by several ‘clever clever’ contributors, who do the armchair critic thing and call his talent lightweight and limited rather than celebrate him for being markedly individual. One poster said that creating your own voice on the saxophone is relatively easy, adding that Ervin ‘sucks’. Another cited Kenny G. as another player with a distinctive sound that he wouldn’t listen to, as if that proved some sort of point. Yet another ranted on about Booker’s patented blues cries being exactly the kind of thing “white” critics love because they help put the musician in a convenient race-related box.
    Sorry chaps, you’ve lost me…and I think the point too.
    Let me say this (and put my name on it rather than hide behind supposedly telling forum handles): Booker Ervin was a hell of a player who had his own bag and who, rather like Joe Henderson, managed to steer his own course even when faced with the twin influences of Trane and Rollins.
    I guess years of listening to all the big, celebrated players (as well as being a professional, working musician) have given me a different angle on this and I now admire his musical honesty as much as his technique or tone: as I said, I was late coming to Booker’s work, but now I find him fascinating, a tad enigmatic and an intoxicating listen. Not for nothing was one of his albums called ‘The Trance.’
    I’d urge anyone who hasn’t checked out his Prestige albums to do so. The Book cooks alright…and always on full heat!

    • Amen to everything you wrote in that long comment Simon! Especially the part about Booker having his own distinctive voice. It’s uniquely identifiable even after only a few notes: an intriguing mix of the blues and some sort of Eastern souk modal thing.

      I’ve got Freedom Book and Blues Book both on Prestige blue trident stereo pressings and they’re terrific – obviously helped by the presence of exceptional players like Alan Dawson, Richard Davis and Jaki Byard. I’d also like to flag that Booker played on Roy Haynes’ Cracklin’ – another outstanding session! And then there’s the Blue Note sessions with Horace Parlan – I especially like Happy Frame of Mind – which I’m lucky enough to have as part of the Parlan Mosaic box set on vinyl.

      All in all, Booker has been one of my best journeys of discovery over the last couple of years.

      Without wishing to sidetrack the thread, Simon, I know you’re our resident Tubby Hayes expert and I was wondering if you have data about the number of copies pressed for various Tubby Hayes LPs? I’m most interested in getting to the bottom of how many copies of Mexican Green were pressed.

      • Under a thousand copies in total, during Tubby’s lifetime.

        I have the Mexican Green sales figures in front of me as I write.

        In the month of release (August-September 1968) it sold 326 copies in the UK, 5 overseas.
        Between October 1st and December 31st the sales were 453 in the UK and 5 overseas.
        January 1st to March 31st 1969, 46 mono copies and 23 stereo copies were sold in the UK and 3 abroad. Between April and July 1969 44 copies were sold in the UK and 24 overseas.
        July to October 1969: 23 copies at home, 1 abroad.
        October 1969 to January 1970, UK sales were 28 and overseas sales just 1 copy.
        In 1970 it sold 10 copies. I believe the album was deleted during the very early 1970s and have no further sales figures for beyond that point.

        • I bought 1 of the 10 in 1970. By that time it was in the bargain section of W H Smith’s at York railway station. I think I paid £1.00 for it which was a tenth of my apprenticeship wages for the week.

        • Well, that’s a sobering set of sales figures for what is the masterpiece LP by the UK’s finest ever tenor player. Sometimes I despair of musical taste in this country. To think that some now forgotten teenagers probably sold more copies in one week in 1968 of their totally disposable record saddens me. But such is the way of the world. Those overseas sales figures tell a sorry story too – back to Andy’s previous post about underrated tenors: I think this proves that Tubby was (is?) in that category. I’m so pleased that you and others keep the flame alive for the Tubster.

          What’s the source of this data? Does it come from Tubby’s royalty statements, Fontana’s accounts or some other place? The fact that this information has survived is almost as fascinating as the information itself.

          Paul, I reckon your £1 in 1970 was a good investment. I purchased my copy second hand last year so I couldn’t tell you which year’s sales it belongs to. I can tell you, though, that I paid forty times more and still consider that a bargain!

          • Sure was. Unfortunatly, due to lack of funds I had to pass on a Lennie Tristano album and also a Sarah Vaughan also for £1each. In those days deletions were often simply dumped in places like W H Smith’s or Woolworth’s where they were virtually given away. I got the Booker Ervin and Sonny Stitt with Don Patterson, and also George Benson’s Cookbook for 50 pence from Woolworths.
            Great days for a 17 year old jazz fan.

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