Except for Count Basie, few pianists in the post-war years could swing the blues like Red Garland. Certainly, Garland could give standards a handsome spin with dramatic lyricism, plenty of space and clusters of block chords. But the blues were in Garland's blood system, and his trio album Halleloo-Y'-All from 1960 remains for me one of the finest examples of his blues trio playing.
Garland grew up in Dallas, began his music education on reed instruments, joined the Army in 1941and began playing piano while stationed in Arizona. After being discharged from the service in '44, Garland gigged around Texas and soon joined Oran Hot Lips" Page's orchestra. When the band hit New York, Garland quit to remain in the city, which turned out to be a shrewd career move.
In New York, Garland played and recorded with many of the greats of the late 1940s. When Miles Davis was unable to persuade Ahmad Jamal and his trio to back him in the early 1950s, Davis turned to Garland, looking to the pianist for an emulation of Jamal's elegant and bright melodic style. Garland delivered (in comes cases on the exact same songs) but with a more pronounced and bluesy style than Jamal. By 1956, Prestige was recording Garland as the leader of a trio when he wasn't playing as a member of Davis's and John Coltrane's rhythm sections. [Photo above of Red Garland and Miles Davis]
Virtually all of Garland's leadership dates had a blues pull. Like a posh musical bartender, Garland was masterful at perfectly blending church and club to produce music that was neither and both. Like B.B. King and Ray Charles, every song Garland touched was saturated in the blues.
Garland recorded several blues-centric albums, including Alone With the Blues and P.C. Blues. But perhaps his best was Halleloo-Y'-All. Recorded in April 1960, the album featured my favorite Garland trio—Sam Jones on bass and Art Taylor on drums. Both musicians have been vastly overlooked as industrial and inventive trio players. And this Red Garland Trio ranks up there with the best of the decade.
Halleloo-Y'-All features a full menu of five blues. As Dan Morganstern wrote in his original album liner notes, the program consists of three Garland originals, a rhythm-and-blues hit of fairly recent vintage [I'll Never Be Free] and an old traditional gospel hymn. The emphasis is on relaxed tempos and a bluesy groove, but there is none of the pseudo funk which is marketed in such quantity these days under titles similar to some of the 'churcy' ones found here. Red Garland is a stylist—not a gimmick-merchant—and everything he plays is musical and unforced. He isn't trying to prove anything and what comes out is uncontrived and happy jazz."
The album also features Garland's playing organ on the title track, a play on hallelujah. Garland could swing and extract the Hammond's full gospel flavor using a tender touch. With the sharp fierceness of Taylor and fleshy bass lines of Jones, this is a perfect Red Garland Trio album.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Red Garland's Halleloo-Y'-All here. The album's tracks are the first five in the download.