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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Erroll Garner

Lullaby Of Birdland
Erroll Garner
Columbia Records CL 535

From the back cover: None of my prior experience with recording artists – Erroll Garner included – had prepared me for what happened when Erroll came into record the session from which this album was produced.

In a business where the hoped-for standard is to complete four three-minute sides in three hours (with innumerable re-takes), and a recording director is ready to break out the champagne and caviar if he's finished half an hour ahead of schedule, Erroll smashed precedent with a performance that can be compared only to running a hundred yards in eight seconds – and with perfect form.

In other words: something that just can't happen. But this time it did. Erroll come into the studio a few minutes after his accompanists had arrived, took off his coat and had a cup of coffee, sat at the piano and noodled a bit, got up and removed his jacket, lie a cigarette, loosened his tie, and one minute past the hour announced that he was ready. We hadn't discussed repertoire specifically; I had only told him that I wanted him to record some double-length numbers for long-play and extended play release.

To give the engineers a chance to check balance, I asked Erroll to play something; anything. He played for a minute of so; the balance was fine, so when he stopped I asked Erroll through the control-room talk-back if he'd like to get started on the first number.

"Ready!" Erroll called.
"Fine," I said. "What's it going to be?"
"I don't know yet," said Erroll. "Just start that tape going".

The saucer-eyed engineers were no more startled than I, but I held back my surprise long enough to ask if Erroll would like me to signal him when he got around the six-minute mark.

"I might not remember to look," he said. "Let's just feel the time; OK?"

Wondering what Dr. Einstein might have to say about that concept, I agreed. Erroll struck a couple of chords, nodded a tempo to Ruther and Heard, threw me a wink, and pointed to the recording light. I snapped it on, and he swung into an introduction which baffled all of us; what was it going to be? By what telepathy Ruther and Heard knew, I will never understand, but they followed Erroll unerringly into the chorus of Will You Still Be Mine? – a tune which, Erroll explained six minutes and twenty seconds later, they had never played together before.

But we didn't even have to play it back to know that it was a perfect master.

That's how the session went; with complete relaxation and informality. Erroll rattled off 13 numbers, averaging over six minutes each in length, with no rehearsal and no re-takes. Even with a half-hour pause for coffee, we were finished twenty-seven minutes ahead of normal studio time – buy Erroll had recorded over eighty minutes of music instead of the usual ten or twelve, and with no re-takes or breakdowns. And every minute of his performance was not only usable, but could not have been improved upon. He asked to hear playbacks on two of the numbers, but only listened to a chorus or so of each, before he waved his hand and said "Fine." As for myself, I was happy with everything the first time 'round and repeated listening to tests since then has confirmed that first opinion was right.

The cheerful atmosphere of this historic session enveloped everyone in the control room as well as Erroll's able accompanists. Rather and Heard contributed a mobile, exciting interplay to Erroll's spontaneously chosen improvisations. The introduction had us playing a constant guessing game in the control room; sometimes even Erroll seemed about to be baffled by them, but they were only virtuoso demonstrations of the man's fabulous imagination.

As thoroughly as I thought I knew "the Garner style," with its trademarked progressions, the lagging beat, and the lush Garner chords, I found in the course of this session that Erroll was still developing and creating anew. A new Garner continues to emerge from the more familiar aspects of his playing which have become so clearly defined through the years. The young "iron man of the recording industry" appears to have unlimited technique and his musical horizons seem limitless.

And the most exciting part of it is that I know that Erroll's next session is going to be another new and rewarding experience. What will happen nobody knows. As someone remarked in the control room during the session, "How many times can you shift gears with one mind?" With Erroll's it never stops. – George Avakian

No Greater Love
Lullaby Of Birdland
Memories Of You
Will You Still Be Mine?

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