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Friday, February 23, 2024

The Greatest Garner - Erroll Garner



The Greatest Garner
The Erroll Garner Trio
Cover Design: Guidi, Tri-Arts
Cover Drawing: Norman Sunshine
Atlantic Recording Corporation 
Atlantic 1227

Recorded in New York with the following personnels:

On The Way You Look Tonight, Turquoise, Pavane, Impressions, Skylark, Flamingo, Reverie, Blue And Sentimental and I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Erroll Garner is accompanied by Leonard Gaskin (bass) and Charlie Smith (drums).

On Confession', I May Be Wrong and Summertime, Erroll Garner is accompanied by John Simmons (bass) and Harold Wing (drums)

From the back cover: Because of its peculiar nature, the piano, which is at once a percussive instrument, a melody instrument, an orchestral creation, and a solo vehicle, has had, like the can opener, a singularly ambidextrous career. This has been particularly true in jazz music. In fact, there is, on one hand, a history of jazz, with the piano a foundation part of it, and, again, there is a complete and almost separate parallel history of solo jazz piano, which has been practiced by ragtime pianists, boogie woogie pianists, blues pianists, stomp pianists, and, more recently, by a host of less esoteric performers who, though sometimes associated with jazz groups, have  become a kind of parade of one-man jazz bands. The greatest of these – Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, James P. Johnson, Mary Lou Williams, and Count Basie – have woven the piano probably the most fertile and diversified jazz instrument. In turn, jazz piano has bred the most individualistic of all jazz instrumentalists excepting obvious monuments like Armstrong, Goodman, Catlett, Parker and Hawkins – so that one can find at one end of the rainbow the sliding pastels of Billy Taylor and at the other the chunky reds and blacks of Sam Price or Joe Sullivan.

The youngest and at present most celebrated of the great solo pianists is a thirty-four-year-old heretic from Pittsburgh named Erroll Garner, who stands five foot two, is constructed lie a pugilist, has a generous, non-pugilistic parrot nose, huge hands that can, if sufficiently taffies up, span fifteen of sixteen notes, a diminutive and elf air, and an octapal way of going at his instrument that entrances both those who eat shrimps with Russian dressing and those who eat pastrami, hot, on the bun. Basically, Garner's pianistic method is an orchestral one. For, unlike the many contemporary jazz pianists who peck at their keyboards like fastidious canaries, Garner, in the tradition of his predecessors, uses all the infinite color, tone, rhythm, and dynamics inherent in his instrument. Surprisingly few jazz pianists – let alone jazz instrumentalists of whatever kind – have learned the great uses of dynamics. Garner, however, employs them ceaselessly. Within the same chorus, for example, he often devises a series of big, jagged chords, piling them thunderously atop one another until one begins to feel that he is being literally thumped on the ear. Then, suddenly, he will drop his volume in the space of a whole note to the spindliest pianissimo, and execute, perhaps, a garland or two of barely struck single notes in the right hand, with craggy, whispering chords in the left, so that, in place of tender, the bewildered listener abruptly finds himself being swathed in feathers. Linked closely with this symphonic attack, is Garner's extraordinary sense of rhythm, which permits him, variously the use masses of craggy, suspended rhythms  often in introductory phrases at the opening of a number of as a preface for an improved chorus – and, at almost all times, to jump ahead or, more often, lag far behind the beat, much as though he were a shiftless man in sloppy socks examining his stubble. Other and more minor facets of Garner's style are the frequent use of the upper registers, where he often develops – in quick, staccato strings of notes – a sense of the bubbling excitement usually associated in this area with Count Basie. Again, Garner will sometimes shift the melody work from his right hand to his left and the rhythm from his left to his right by simply transferring these duties from one hand to the other, instead of, as in the custom with more commonplace technicians, crossing his hands. (Garner can write or play tennis with either hand, and once, on a recording date he made with a broken finger, played a perfect set of chords with the back of his hand.) Great warmth and an extremely attractive sense of poignance are however the root features of Garner's appeal. There are of course, limitations to his capabilities. He does not know how to read music. (He was advised by a music teacher in Europe a few years ago that he should not, for the present, at least, take lessons for, it was felt, formal instruction would destroy what the teacher regarded as one of the greatest natural piano styles he had ever heard.) Garner is, as well, a home taught product whose technique sometimes results in slurred notes and rather odd-sounding chords. These frailties have occasionally forced him to rely overly on stylization rather than on freshness. When this happens, he becomes repetitive and throttle. But, like all primitives of great talent, Garner has an apparently bottomless love for his form. which eventually and inevitably comes spilling out again to wash away the staleness and the props.

Garner, who is a shy, sensitive, intelligent man with a ready sense of humor, was born into a musical family, and, at the age of three, was playing reasonable facsimiles of tunes he had heard pumped out on his family's player piano. When he was seven, he was a member of the Kandy Kids, a band of his peers, which broadcast weekly over KDKA in Pittsburgh. A few  years later, he was sitting in with one of Fate Marable's riverboat bands with another minor named Jimmy Blanton. He worked with local bands in his mid-teens, never finishing high school, became for a time a professional boxer (he recently disappeared from New York for a few days and was found upstate by his manager, the teeming Martha Glaser, engaged in sparring practice with a young boxer he had just "bought"), and played pit piano in theaters, one of which was located in a bucolic outpost called Glen Falls, N.Y. Buy this time, Garner's style – according to a musical who heard him at the time – was largely crystalized. (Garner does not feel that any single pianist shaped his playing, and indeed this seems true; the only influences one can isolate are what amount to a respect for certain characteristics in the work of Hines, Waller, and perhaps Tatum.) He arrived in New York in 1944 and he was twenty-three, and worked at first along Fifty-Second Street, which was undergoing its last and probably greatest days a a jazz strip. He made his first records the same year for the now-defunct Black and white label. During the next year of two, before he went out on his own as a single, Garner played and recorded with Georgie Auld and Charlie Parker. (The twelve reissues here were recorded in 1949 and 1950, and are, all in all, as fresh as anything Garner has set down.)

Garner's sheer prodigiousness has already made him the sort of figure myths are hung on. He has probably, for instance, made and sold more solo jazz piano records than any other jazz pianist. (Ralph Gleason, the West Coast whip, once estimated that Garner's LP output would require seventy-two consecutive hours of listening time.) He has recorded for an estimated total of thirty-seven different labels, most of which pirate masters back and forth like run casks, and most of which pay Garner no royalties. Garner earns at present from records, his new song publishing firm (it has set down on paper some sixty of his compositions and he has, as well, recently completed a concerto for piano and orchestra), and his public appearances, an income equivalent to that of a successful General Motors man – an astonishing condition in an art form who practitioners have been known to starve to death.

Although Garner can be placed as one of the mainstream solo jazz pianists, he is not classifiable beyond that. He has often been rather loosely associated with men like Parker and Gillespie, because of his brief earlier associations with them. Actually, though, Garner is more of rubicund, old-fashioned-type pianist – with his handfuls of keys, his blinking stride attack, and his florid right hand who has little in common with the prim young men who play the piano as if it had just two octaves. Critics have lashed into print with balloons of praise as well as with rococo statements (Harold Schonberg in the New York Times after the second Newport Jazz Festival) to the effect that Garner is not really a jazz pianist, but a kind of hyped-up cocktail musician. In the meantime, Garner continues shedding a good deal of hot and beneficent light around the modern jazz world, which has become so languid in recent years that a musical was  reported a short time again in Down Beat as saying that pretty soon jazzmen wouldn't have to play jazz; instead, they would just sit around and think it. – Whitney Balliett

The Way You Look Tonight
I May Be Wrong
Blue And Sentimental
I Can't Give You Anything But Love

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