When Red Garland moved to Dallas in the mid-Sixties, he kept to himself for over a decade; in 1975 he stopped playing entirely. “The record royalties were coming in, so I watched television and played with my grandchildren for 18 months.” His return to jazz came slowly: first at the Recovery Room in Dallas, then he was hired at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in 1977. This led to a series of albums on Galaxy, and he returned to the Korner several times. Said club owner Todd Barkan, “...once you got him into the club and on stage it was hard to get him off. He loved to play.” Booked for a week in 1978, Garland was doing a sound check when old friend Leo Wright (in town for a visit) dropped by. Wright got his alto, and the shows that week were recorded. The results are here, and they show a guy in love with his music and his audience.
This disc begins with “Will You Still Be Mine”, which Red first did on his GROOVY album for Prestige. It starts out easy, slower and less chord-heavy than the earlier version. Chris Amberger’s bass is round and prominent, stepping proud among the keys, while Eddie Moore gets the crisp propulsive sound Garland always got from his drummers. Red gets a little adventurous during his solo, hitting hard rhythmic patterns, the second time using conventional chords. He then restates the theme, loud with heavy block chords (much like the version on GROOVY.) Fours are traded with Moore, and the theme is restated the way it was at the start, ending with particularly lush chords. The crowd is appreciative.
“Please Send Me Someone to Love” was also heard before, on the album RED GARLAND’S PIANO. As Red starts it, very slow and very bluesy, the crowd applauds; they know the tune. On his solo the right hand runs rampant; a three-note pattern goes delightfully fast, while the chords go on behind it. Red gets pensive again while restating the theme, then a last delicious run of notes before the chords and the applause bring it to a close.
“Bye Bye Blackbird” starts out lonely and warm, then gets lively for the solo. Amberger is really noticeable here; it’s not as distinctive as his part on “Will You Still be Mine”, but it’s still quite good. Red normally sounds very relaxed when he plays, but here he gets aggressive, pushing the rhythm along with an unexpected drive. Moore gets an extended solo, which the crowd likes as much as I do. Then ending starts soft, then ends in a wash of happy chords.
With “Body and Soul” Leo Wright takes the stage, and at once makes an impact. His opening flourishes on the theme are emulated by Red. His tone is sweet and very forceful; Red’s part is too involved for mere comping, but is subdued by his normal standards. Wright’s solo keeps changing moods, here a lyrical held note, there a flurry of bright notes, and even some honks. Someone says “Yeah!”; band and audience really get into this one.
The theme on “Bags’ Groove” is stated by Red, thick with blues. Then Leo steps forward, and again goes wild. He sounds the theme in what sounds like triple-time, Moore gets aggressive with the cymbals, Red gives him some block chords, and Leo swings harder. He’s impressed me on other records, but I’ve never heard Leo Wright play better than this. The crowd – they eat it up. Red’s solo is more relaxed than his comping was, digging the blues deep as he slowly turns up the heat. Amberger gets his first solo; it slides and strums and keeps things going, even when it gets really quiet. Leo comes back with the theme, and “Bags’ Groove” is your groove too.
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was apparently a request; Leo takes it slow and pretty, sticking close to the theme. Near the end of it he trills, and his tone gets a little Ammons muscle. His solo is played very high, and the intensity keeps building. The block chords come in, and this time Wright seems to play under them, letting the chords wash over him. The crowd, as they say, goes wild.
Todd Barkan, who produced this date, said that Red’s playing at Keystone Korner “was always heartfelt. The club and the city seemed to bring out the best in his playing.” Maybe he said that because it was his club. After hearing this, I must say: Maybe it was the truth.