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Erroll Garner: The Octave Remastered Series: Part 2: A Night At The Movies

Peter Hoetjes By

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Part 1 | Part 2

Most people's appreciation for Erroll Garner begins and ends with Concert By The Sea (Columbia, 1955), the pianist's career-defining performance for an audience of U.S. Infantrymen at the Sunset School in Carmel, California —coincidentally, just ten minutes away from the filming location of Play Misty For Me, Clint Eastwood's jazz-tinged thriller featuring "Misty," Garner's most famous composition. The sound of Garner's piano is arguably the most distinctive one in the instrument's history. While many musicians' influences are readily identified as derivative of trailblazers such as Thelonius Monk or McCoy Tyner, there isn't really anyone who plays like quite like him. Somehow, adopting his mannerisms is seen as imitating rather than incorporating, a compelling argument as to how truly singular his particular brand of music was. At the height of his popularity, Garner managed to record the most successful jazz album of the time, and bring the genre from smoke-filled, underground jazz clubs to concert halls all over the world. Yet despite the accolades he enjoyed during his lifetime, today his music belongs largely to a niche market.

In 1959, Garner and his manager, Martha Glaser, struck a blow for artist's rights by successfully suing Columbia Records to cease their release of music he didn't approve of. The pianist took a three-year hiatus, using his time and prosperity to have a hand in the birth of Octave Music, for whom he would record a dozen albums over the remaining sixteen years of his life. When Glaser died in 2014, the entirety of Garner's estate fell into the hands of a new executor, who used the opportunity to create The Erroll Garner Jazz Project. Since then, the group has released multiple high quality remastered albums by the famed musician to wide critical acclaim.

The Octave Remastered Series will see all twelve of the albums he recorded for the label brought to the 21st century with state of the art technology. Each will include a single unreleased bonus track, eight of which are never before heard original compositions. Following the batch of four which kicked the series off in September 2019, a new album will be issued by Mack Avenue Records every month leading up to the pianist's centennial celebration in June of 2020.

Erroll Garner was a consistent performer throughout his career, appearing on a plethora of albums and penning over two hundred compositions. With that in mind, the folks at The Erroll Garner Jazz Project look to revitalize interest in his legacy, expanding modern audiences awareness of him away from Concert By The Sea and "Misty," to the wealth of music he created, so much of which the world has yet to discover.

Weaving a distinct theme throughout a jazz album is an approach that, when done right, has the potential to instill a unique sense of character. The theme itself may vary, from common Christmas offerings, to attempts to capture the vibe of a specific season or city. A New Kind Of Love, Erroll Garner's previous Octave Music release, was wrapped around thematic material he had written for a Paul Newman film. Evidently Hollywood held an allure over the pianist, as he followed it up less than a year later with A Night At The Movies. This album would be one of the last to feature his most well-remembered trio consisting of bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, and includes thirteen reinterpreted tunes made famous during the early years of the motion picture industry.

It's an idea well within Garner's wheelhouse, as his fondness for completely deconstructing pop songs and standards was hardly a secret. While many musicians of his era shunned contemporary radio hits, the recordings he made during the latter half of his career reflect a willingness to insert himself into contemporary culture. He plays through "You Made Me Love You," the song which propelled a young Judy Garland to stardom, with all the subtlety of a twelve-gauge shotgun. This isn't to say the song lacks nuance; the pianist employs an interesting technique here, relying less on his renowned left-handed dominance than on a breakneck repetition of its melody within the same octave.

One might think that from a logical standpoint, Garner's traditional off-the-cuff introductions might seem out of place on an album of this design. The logical assumption proves incorrect however, as its fourteen short-format songs are accompanied by those introductions, and served in an easily digestible form. Some of them do fall a bit flat around its midsection, particularly "I'll Get By" and the theme from Million Dollar Baby, but this downfall is at least partly mitigated by the brevity of Garner's selections.

For his fans, "Stella By Starlight" is likely to be the only familiar tune on A Night At The Movies, and though this performance of the standard from 1944's The Uninvited isn't his most graceful, it is a comforting addition. "It's Only A Paper Moon" has also endured thanks to numerous covers, even if the movie it originated on has not. Sadly, most of the films Garner took from, with the exception of a select few such as A Streetcar Named Desire, have not stood the test of time. The album could also stand to be more well balanced, as the pianist's penchant for bleary eyed romanticism fails to rear its head until "How Deep Is The Ocean," most of the way through its runtime.

Garner doesn't approach the album like a musician stretching to encompass unfamiliar or atypical compositions. His interpretations of "As Time Goes By," in addition to "You and Me," its sole bonus track, embody the intuitive, free-spirited avidity he is remembered for today. As disappointing as it may be not to hear any of his own songs included, his fifth outing with Octave Music is an example of a confident Erroll Garner in his prime. Though A Night At The Movies wouldn't likely make for an ideal introduction to his archive, it should appeal to both fans of classic film and piano alike.

Track Listing: You Made Me Love You; As Time Goes By; Sonny Boy; Charmaine; I Found A Million Dollar Baby (In A Five And Ten Cent Store); I'll Get By; Three O'Clock In The Morning; Stella By Starlight; Jeanine I Dream Of Lilac Time; Schoner Gigolo (Just A Gigolo; How Deep Is The Ocean; It's Only A Paper Moon; Newsreel Tag (Paramount On Parade); You And Me.

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

Title: The Octave Remastered Series: Part 2: A Night At The Movies | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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