Red Garland, Swingin’ on the Korner: Live At Keystone Korner (Elemental)
A new Red Garland album: a nice surprise from a time just after the pianist released himself from self-imposed isolation. Garland made his name as a member of the seminal 1950s Miles Davis Quintet that also included tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. His exposure with Davis, followed by years of success with his own trio, made Garland one of the most recorded, best known and influential pianists in jazz. Then in 1965 he went home to Dallas, worked rarely and in 1975 stopped practicing. He told me in 1979, “The record royalties were coming in, so I did nothing. I watched television for eighteen months.”
Finally, a Dallas club owner coaxed him out of his house. He started playing at the Recovery Room and worked fairly often there, and in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco until illness stopped him. He died in May, 1984. Always, Garland exuded the blues he absorbed as a youngster and threaded his playing with sophistication that could lead him to incorporate Beethoven into an improvisation. In this previously unissued recording, he works Für Elyse into his introduction to “Love For Sale,” the opening number of this two-CD set recorded in 1977 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. As usual with Garland in such cases, the quote is a part of the flow of his invention. The tune established, Garland is off and away for nearly 12 minutes of energy and bonhomie shared with his old teammate Jones and the stalwart bassist Leroy Vinnegar.
Garland solos extensively throughout the album, and in the course of the hour-and-a-half, so do Jones and Vinnegar, to the delight of the Keystone Korner audience. The repertoire comes from tunes made classics by the Davis groupamong them ”Billy Boy,” “Dear Old Stockholm” and “On Green Dolphin Street. Others are from the vast playbook he developed during the post-Davis years when he recorded a couple of dozen albums, some with guests including saxophonists Coltrane and Oliver Nelson, trumpeter Donald Byrd and other horn players. Garland was partial to superior songs from musical theatre and film. He has sensitive treatments here of “If I’m Lucky,” “On a Clear Day,” “I Wish I Knew” and “Never Let Me Go”, ending the latter by alternating hands in a thrilling trip down the keyboard through the harmonic changes.
As for the blues that Garland cherished, the collection includes Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Kenny Dorham’s exhilarating “Blues in Bebop” from 1947. The Dorham piece is notable for Philly Joe’s nonpareil snare drum chatter prodding Garland back into form when he succumbs to a moment of ennui. Vinnegar was famous as one of the great walking bassists. He does plenty of walking, and swinging, here, but on “Bags’ Groove,” he has a horn-like solo that’s a highlight.
This Keystone Korner discovery finds Garland slightly down slope from peak form but still capable of generating excitement and, in the ballads, beauty so personal that no other pianist has ever quite managed to approximate the Garland touch. And it’s a treat to hear him late in his career rising to Philly Joe’s challenges.
The CD’s 44-page booklet has commentary by former Keystone Korner owner Todd Barkan, his producing partner Zev Feldman, Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, producer Don Schlitten, appreciations by pianist Benny Green and drummer Kenny Washington andfull disclosurean article that I wrote about Garland years ago for Texas Monthly.