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Erroll Garner: Campus Concert

Peter Hoetjes By

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Erroll Garner's sixth album on the Octave label would mark a pivotal moment in his career. Not only would Campus Concert be his final live recording, it would be the last to include bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, who comprised his trio for almost a decade. It remains unclear why, after such remarkable success together, they would separate. The albums he recorded with these sidemen, especially Calhoun, who joined in time for Concert By The Sea (Columbia) in 1955, remain his most fondly remembered.

Campus Concert is a more balanced effort than its predecessor, A Night At The Movies (MGM, 1965), avoiding the pitfall of tediousness. Spread amidst a double-serving of mambo-framed efforts and typically jubilant pieces such as "Indiana (Back Home Again In Indiana)" and "Almost Like Being In Love" are a handful of uncommon takes on otherwise all-too-common standards.

"Stardust" serves to prove wrong those who claim that if you've heard one Garner song, you've heard them all, administering a sermon on the man's ability to employ subtlety. He spends half of its near-six minute runtime as a soloist, tricking the audience into believing he is engrossed in one of his customary experimental introductions before it slowly dawns that the entire piece is an experiment. Martin's brushes and gentle cymbals ease in long before the ear is likely to notice them, and if Eddie Calhoun is plucking his bass at all, it is almost inaudible. As easy as it would be to label this one of the drawbacks of recording live, the audio quality is such that it rarely registers that the trio is on Purdue University's stage in West Lafayette, Indiana, save for when the young audience applauds. More likely is that Garner simply desired for "Stardust" to play out differently than what they had come to expect.

The pianist also manages to restrain his tongue-in-cheek humor during "My Funny Valentine," taking a song which at the time was already three decades old and reengineering it. While some may be of the opinion that this version strays a bit too far from the familiar formula, as even the melody is just barely intact, the song serves as a playground for the trio. To be fair, that formula may be a bit too familiar to audiences who have heard it covered by countless jazz musicians and used tirelessly by lounge singers as soapy fodder for years. Rather than going for shock value with a contrasting and bewildering introduction, Garner's opening improvisation seems to add a dark, operatic energy to the performance. He would continue that tone into the following track, "These Foolish Things," before closing the curtain with a pair of swinging numbers.

Campus Concert is one of the highlights of the Octave Remastered Series thus far. The trio of Garner, Calhoun and Kelly thankfully avoided a protracted decline. Here, they slam the door on this period of their lives, finishing suddenly and with the most apt fade-out possible:

The sound of enthusiastic applause.

Erroll Garner's legacy will forever be tied to Concert By The Sea, and he will be remembered as an exceptional live performer. Though the end of an era is rarely a celebratory occasion, Campus Concert is a farewell of which this trio could be proud.

Track Listing

Indiana (Back Home Again In Indiana); Stardust; Mambo Erroll; Lulu's Back In Town; Almost Like Being In Love; My Funny Valentine; These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You); In The Still Of The Night; Le Petite Mambo.

Personnel

Erroll Garner: piano; Eddie Calhoun: bass; Kelly Martin: drums.

Additional information

Title: Campus Concert | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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