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Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Most Happy Piano - Erroll Garner


Passing Through

The Most Happy Piano
Erroll Garner
Columbia Records CL 939

From the back cover: After an afternoon like that I felt sure Erroll was going to be alright. But the proof had to come at the keyboard, and this album is it. (Or part of the 97 minutes of it, anyway.) As Erroll reeled off one good take after another, with no preparation, it quickly became apparent that this was the old Erroll, all right. The happiest piano in all the world.

Seldom has the "Garner rock" been better defined than in the highly personal Girl Of My Dreams, But Not For Me, a classic Gershwin ballad, is taken at an unexpected "up" tempo, with a Latinesque offbeat first chorus. Erroll picks the tempo up even more in Passing Through, an original with a slightly minor but nevertheless thoroughly happy cast. Time On My Hands slows down to another typical Garner sound: the insinuating, tip-toe exposition of a fine melody, followed by a series of imaginative inventions on one of the greatest Garner first choruses on record.

Erroll, of course, is a man who can strut sitting down. He can also parade from a piano bench without leaving it, as Alexander's Ragtime Band demonstrates. Another highly unusual Garner performance is Full Moon and Empty Arms, in which the familiar Rachnanioff concerto theme is given a fast-paced treatment that is more Erroll than Sergei. His own Mambo 207 is a jolly little theme that grows considerably under Erroll's caressing care. The Way Back Blues is not only a remembrance of the origins of jazz, but its unique sound – with Specs hauling out a tambourine after a while – has all the joy of a rent party social in full blast, Ol' Man River is roaring Garner, all stops out, with touches contributed by his sidemen (Al Hall, in one release, imitates one of Erroll's pet left-hand patterns) and a final, vocalist-style strut-off at the finish. It amounts to a pronouncement that Erroll's back.

And everybody's happy about it. In the months since Erroll's complete recovery, he has enjoyed a continuing tide of public success in areas well beyond the usual jazz fandom. Even in the jazz field, a re-evaluation of Erroll has been taking place, perhaps best typified  by Jack Tracy's editorial in the November 14 (1956) issue of Down Beat, which closed with these paragraphs:

"It came upon me almost as a surprise recently to find how much I have been taking Garner for granted. His talent has risen to, and stayed at, such a consistently high level for a decade now, it is sometimes difficult to realize that during a whole era of change and turmoil in jazz, he has not only kept pace with it, but he has grown within it to such an extent that his style has been an influence on countless other pianists.

"He has been influential without sacrificing an inimitable concern for the humorous aspects of life. The communicative warmth inherent in his playing is genuine, not the product of pseudo-intensity serving as a facade for lack of emotional depth. He can be sincerely, meaningfully intense or delightfully giddy. He is refreshingly unique at all times.

"His years as an unrewarded jazz giant have passed. His popularity today, as a jazz pianist and a popular recording artist, is indicative of his basically sound approach to music. As an uncompromisingly honest, creative musician, Garner has served jazz wisely and well."

From Billboard - February 9, 1957: Erroll Garner, one of the staples of the jazz piano, is still growing as an artist. Jazzophile and pop piano customers' listening to these versions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Time On My Hands," "Girl Of My Dreams," etc. will again conclude that for individuality, freshness and what might be called musical wit – Garner is a tremendous talent. This package is must inventory for good jazz shops.

Girl Of My Dreams
But Not For Me
Passing Through
Time On My Hands
Alexander's Ragtime Band
Full Moon And Empty Arms
Mambo 207
The Way Back Blues
Ol' Man River

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