Red Garland Trio: Swingin’ on the Korner

“Garland’s Swingin’ on the Korner is culled from pristine board tapes and it finds the incendiary mainstream pianist in the equally explosive company of his old stable-mate, drummer Philly Joe Jones, and bassist  Leroy Vinegar.” Kirk Silsbee,  Downbeat Magazine,   March 2015

Red Garland Trio - Swingin' on the Korner (cover)
© Brian McMillen

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Legendary jazz critic Nat Hentoff calls him a pianist “with infectiously lyrical inherent swing — and surprises that flowed as naturally as his beat.”

Renowned historian and journalist Ira Gitler calls him “one the most multi-dimensional, solid-swinging, deeply lyrical piano stylists in our music, an unmistakably multi-dimensional artist who contributed so much to the groups of Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, and so many others.”

Torch-bearing pianist Benny Green says that each of his performances “addresses a full spectrum of emotion, and the innate sense of hipness, taste, and timing seemingly possessed by only the greatest voices of the music creates a musical brew which maintains its pure cool and freshness throughout the ages.”

Universally respected drummer Kenny Washington simply calls him, “one of the masters.”

Despite such high praise from these undoubted authorities, and his integral role in the first great Miles Davis Quintet, Red Garland’s name is too rarely mentioned in the pantheon of jazz greats. With the release of Swingin’ on the Korner on January 20, Elemental Music helps to remedy those oversights with the release of over 150 minutes of previously unheard live Red Garland performances on two CDs or 3 LPs, recorded in 1977 at San Francisco’s landmark Keystone Korner jazz club with a once-in-a-lifetime trio. None of this material has ever been released – officially or otherwise.

This swinging treasure trove arrives with a 44 page booklet including essays by the aforementioned experts (Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, Don Schlitten, Doug Ramsey, Benny Green, Kenny Washington, with an introduction by producers Zev Feldman and Todd Barkan) as well as photographs taken during the actual concerts by Keystone staff photographer Tom Copi. Images, information and music combine to transport listeners back to a magical week in one of jazz’s most beloved rooms. Additionally, the booklet includes an article on Red Garland from Doug Ramsey “Seeing Red”, printed with permission from Texas Monthly that ran back in 1979. As producer Zev Feldman says, “this may be one of the most important projects I’ve ever worked on and I’ve had the pleasure to co-produce this with Todd Barkan. I was determined from the start to build the most exhaustive package ever created for Garland that truly celebrates his memory. There’s never been a book on Red, and this is the closest there is. We built this and I couldn’t be more proud. He deserves it”. Fans will learn about Red via music but also by critical voices who have something to say about this master who has sadly been gone now for over 31 years.” (he passed away in 1983).

Red Garland with Philly Joe Jones and Leroy Vinnegar
Photograph (c) Tom Copi/San Francisco, all rights reserved

Our time machine arrives in December, 1977, as Garland is reunited with his bandmate from the Miles Davis Quintet, legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones. For the first and only time, Garland and Jones were joined for the occasion by bassist Leroy Vinnegar, best known for his recordings with Stan Getz, Chet Baker, and Lee Konitz, among others. The trio was the brainchild of Keystone Korner owner Todd Barkan, who aimed (successfully, as these recordings attest) to turn the engagement into a special, exclusive occasion.

“Red played the Keystone a few other times,” says Feldman, “but this time was the most memorable because the band is so great. You couldn’t ask to have better sidemen that what we have here, and we culled through an entire week of performances to get the best stuff.”

The result is a uniformly high-caliber selection, though highlights abound, including the album’s opener, a rousing, 13-minute rendition of “Love for Sale” that begins with an epic solo introduction by Garland, playfully incorporating a touch of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” before leaping into the brisk, swinging tune. “Love for Sale” delivers both power and sensitivity. The set also includes a sprinting version of “Billy Boy” (familiar from Davis’ Milestones) that shows off Vinnegar’s muscular walking lines; a prime example of Garland’s tender ballad playing on “Never Let Me Go;” and a nod to the season with a poignant take on Mel Tormé’s classic “The Christmas Song.” Of course it wouldn’t be a Red Garland without blues and ballads which fans will be happy to know are included in ample form.

Red Garland
Photograph (c) Tom Copi/San Francisco, all rights reserved

Swingin’ on the Korner follows the release of Elemental’s acclaimed set of previously unreleased Jimmy Giuffre live recordings, New York Concerts, and the label’s sophomore effort maintains its impeccable standards of quality and thoroughness. “I wanted to assemble one of the best packages ever for Red Garland,” Feldman says. “He’s one of my heroes and I wanted to help celebrate his legacy.”

He achieves that goal with a set that surrounds this fantastic music with writings by Todd Barkan, providing a first-hand account of these scintillating concerts; Nat Hentoff, who discusses Garland’s rich life and legacy; Ira Gitler, who delves deep into Garland’s style and his influential use of block chords; Benny Green, who recalls discovering Garland after the pianist returned from a long dormant period in the 1960s and the profound influence he had on the younger pianist; and Kenny Washington, sharing his personal memories of the pianist, who Washington got to know in the last years of his life.

Washington also offered key assistance in identifying the material, no small order when dealing with a repertoire as vast as Red Garland’s. One tune in particular proved daunting, referred to only as “Unidentified Ballad” until very late in the process. Through Feldman’s network of connections, the piece finally found its way to the ears of vocalist Sheila Jordan, who pegged it as “If I’m Lucky,” the theme song for an obscure 1946 movie originally sung by Perry Como (who also appeared in the film alongside Carmen Miranda). The package was designed & built by Burton Yount whose recent collaborations with producer Feldman include Jimmy Giuffre’s New York Concerts, Bill Evans Live at Top of The Gate, and Wes Montgomery’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue.

On the project’s origins, Feldman recalls, “In 2013 when Elemental’s owner Jordi Soley and I were starting the label, we were determined to find important previously unissued recordings. These tapes came from Todd’s archives and upon even seeing these tapes existed, we immediately knew how rare they were and that they needed to be issued. I’m very grateful to Jordi for his support in this project. I presented my plan to build the greatest release ever for Red and I was given free reign to do what I felt was best. The results are a one-of-a-kind reference guide in addition to wonderful recordings. I am grateful to Mr. Soley.”

Feldman continues: “This is an important recording; a discovery coming to light from a period where Red really wasn’t recording that much. I hope it kicks the door open for people to go back and revisit his music, to stop and evaluate who this man was: a great musician and great artist.”

The 2 CD / 3 LP set is available January 20th, 2015 on Elemental Music, distributed in the U.S. by INgrooves/Universal Music Distribution.

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Matt Merewitz
Fully Altered Media
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matt@fullyaltered.com


Stephen Buono
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stephen@fullyaltered.com
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