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Red Garland: Red Garland's Piano

Samuel Chell By

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Red Garland: Red Garland's Piano Bass players owe Red Garland the biggest debt of all whereas piano players may be forgiven for blaming their left-handed awkwardness on the incalculable influence of the former boxer-turned-pianist. Because of Garland, pianists no longer voiced, for example, a C7 chord in root position (C-E-G-Bb) but made a habit of placing the third (E) or flatted seventh (Bb) on bottom, while assigning the bassist the chord's root.

Suddenly bassists were every pianist's best friend (or enemy, in the case of those unhip pianists who couldn't solve the problem of doubling the bassist's roots). Garland, moreover, was the musician practically every pianist copied for those widely-spaced block chords, with the melody given to octaves in the right hand. But it was only their inventor who could make them flow like single-note Bud Powell lines even on medium-up tempos, as Garland does on a marathon piano solo following Coltrane's intimidating turn on All Mornin' Long (OJC, 1958).

Soon, the unmistakable sound of Red Garland's piano became a winning formula for Prestige, which released a string of uniformly consistent trio recordings by Garland beginning in the mid-fifties, all of them religiously copied by pianists who with equal diligence transcribed his single-noted solos on his recordings with Miles Davis on Prestige and Columbia. Subsequently it became impossible not to hear Garland's influence—explicitly on pianists including Wynton Kelly and Gene Harris, only slightly less so on Ahmad Jamal and Monty Alexander and, to a lesser degree, on Bill Evans (listen to his block-chorded solo introducing the 12-bar blues "Yearnin' from Oliver Nelson's 1961 Impulse date, Blues and the Abstract Truth).

Garland's trio recordings are so consistent that a listener can feel free to pick and choose on the basis of favorite tunes. Red Garland's Piano finds the leader opening up with no place to go and taking all of his time to get there on the extended "Please Send Me Someone to Love, no less deeply felt than the Percy Mayfield original, but the keys singing so unobtrusively and seductively as to invite repeated playings before moving on to the hard-swinging, Powell-stamped "Stompin' at the Savoy. After returning to a moderate, wistful groove on "The Very Thought of You, the pianist is soon doing his classiest Fred Astaire two-step impersonation on "Almost Like Being in Love, before chilling out on this listener's favorite, "I Know Why (And So Do You), a seldom-seen friend and all the more welcome because of it.

The second of Garland's trio sessions, recorded shortly after Miles Davis' switch from Prestige to Columbia, The Red Garland Piano comprises two-thirds of the day's greatest rhythm section, with Chambers' solos—plucked or bowed—no less eloquent than the leader's, while Art Taylor doesn't so much as give a thought to going to the wood (good call by one of the louder drummers I've ever caught in person).

It may be called Red Garland's Piano, but any pianist who's not a liar will tell you the instrument really belonged to the house.


Track Listing: Please Send Me Someone to Love; Stompin' At the Savoy; The Very Thought of You; Almost Like Being in Love; If I Were a Bell; I Know Why (And So Do You); I Can't Give You Anything But Love; But Not For Me.

Personnel: Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Arthur Taylor: drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Prestige Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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