In 1958 jazz pianist Erroll Garner
became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Columbia Records over money and the fact that the company had released an album of his early work against his wishes. He cancelled his contract with the company and started recording instead for his own label, Octave, making up on lost income by tours of Europe.
During the last 18 years of his career Garner recorded a total of 12 albums for Octave. These are now being reissued by Mack Avenue Records. First come four albums: Dreamstreet
, Close Up In Swing
, One World Concert
and A New Kind Of Love
. They will be followed by one album a month through to June, 2020. Dreamstreet
dates from 1961. Tacked on to a collection of standards is "By Chance," an original Garner composition found when the tapes were examined. Peter Lockhart, senior producer of the series, says: "It's truly shocking, and one of the greatest joys of this work, to find these fully realized tunes just sitting there on tape." As work on the Garner project proceeds, Lockhart hopes to discover more such gems. He says the sound of the reissues is so good because the audio was transferred using the Plangent Process, a playback system for analogue tape that cures wow, flutter and other inaccuracies that will often carry over from vintage masters. The result of curing wow is audio that sounds refreshingly crisp without losing its sense of authenticity or vintage charm. "It was really important to try to represent these records in the way that Garner meant for them to be listened to, with the album art and track order that he wanted," Lockhart explains. Dreamstreet
picks up where Garner left off with Columbia. He is accompanied by his regular rhythm section, Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums. His trademark introductions are all there, allowing listenersand even very often Calhoun and Martinthe chance to guess the tune. Not all Garner's treatments work. Duke Ellington
's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" suffers from a rambling, unconcise arrangement that is high on technique but decidedly low on feeling.
There's a medley of songs from Oklahoma!
just as a new version of the musical is being unveiled, "reimagined for the 21st century," as the promo goes. "Stripped down to reveal the darker psychological truths at its corefunny and sexy, dark and terrifying." What would Garner have made of that? Or Rodgers and Hammerstein for that matter? Close Up In Swing
is Garner at his best: backed by Kelly and Calhoun, putting his inimitable stamp on 10 standards that include "You Do Something To Me," a Latin-tinged "St. Louis Blues" and "The Best Things In Life Are Free." Not to mention his own "El Papa Grande" and another undiscovered gem, "Octave 103." One World Concert
was recorded at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. It contains a version of Garner's "greatest hit," "Misty." The song is, in all likelihood, the world's third most popular jazz standard after Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" and Thelonious Monk
's "Round Midnight." It was originally featured on the album, Contrasts
(EmArcy), from 1955. After lyrics had been added by Johnny Burke, it became a hit for Johnny Mathis and other versions were made by Ella Fitzgerald
, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. A New Kind Of Love
is the least successful of the initial four albums. It was the only movie score Garner ever wrote, for a rather static comedy about the fashion industry set in Paris, starring husband and wife team Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. George Wein
, founder and producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, used to call Garner "Orch," because, he said, he sounded like a full orchestra when he played the piano. The trouble was there simply wasn't room for anyone else to play along with him, let alone the full 35-piece string orchestra conducted by Leith Stevens that is featured here along with Barney Kessel on electric guitar.