Red Garland: A Garland of Red

C. Michael Bailey By

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Red Garland: A Garland of Red
Like pianist Wynton Kelly and Kelly's debut recording New Faces -New Sounds (Blue Note, 1951), William McKinley Red Garland performed for years as a sideman before releasing his first recording as a leader, A Garland of Red. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Garland migrated to New York City after a stint with Hot Lips Page in 1946. There, Garland recorded with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Charlie Parker, basically just kicking around until drummer Art Blakey heard him one night playing a dive, introducing him to Billy Eckstine, who, in turn, introduced the pianist to a larger audience. Garland is best known for holding the piano chair in the first of Miles Davis' great quintets, with bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Philly Joe Jones and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, performing on eight Davis releases between 1955 and 1958, including the famous four ...with The Miles Davis Quintet recordings for Prestige Records (1956) and 'Round About Midnight (Columbia, 1957).

During his tenure with Davis, Garland began his solo recording career, at the same time establishing one of the most secure and durable piano trios of the period with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor. The three musicians shared an enviable and empathic sympatico enabling them to produce seamless mainstream jazz of a consistently high quality. Garland also pioneered a block chord playing technique that became closely associated with the pianist and an influence to many after him. These block chords were made up of three notes in the right hand and four notes in the left hand (typically leaving out the root of the chord as Bill Evans would later do), with the right hand one octave above the left. Garland's left hand played four-note chords that simultaneously beat out the same exact rhythm as the right-hand melody played. As an arranger, Garland preferred stock arrangements of a head, followed by solo sections, ending with the head as coda, a common device used in jazz at the time.

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack Studio on August 17, 1956, A Garland of Red amply displayed Garland's block technique, which is easily heard on the opening "A Foggy Day." Garland's soloing is brisk and wordy. Chambers solos pizzicato, demonstrating his mastery of his instrument at the early age of 21 years old. Chambers solos arco on several selections, including a briskly played "What Is This Thing Called Love," and "September in the Rain." Taylor plays with a quiet grace, easily trading eights with the leader capably. Garland displays his touch with the blues on "Makin' Whoopie" and the closing original "Blue Red," the latter given a lengthy introduction by Chambers. This music would go on to define what many listeners considered jazz, the quintessential definition of mainstream.

This collection of seven standards and one original set a high bar for Garland. He was a consistent and durable pianist too often dismissed as a "decent cocktail pianist." The only problem with that is cocktail pianists don't make records like this and the ones to come.

Track Listing

A Foggy Day; My Romance; What is This Thing Called Love; Makin’ Whoopee; September in the Rain; Little Girl Blue; Constellation; Blue Red.


Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass, acoustic; Art Taylor: drums.

Album information

Title: A Garland of Red | Year Released: 1956 | Record Label: Prestige Records

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