GARNER, Erroll: Erroll Garner Plays Misty (1953-1954) (David Lennick/ Erroll Garner/ Fats Heard/ Wyatt Ruther) (Naxos: 8.120771)
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ERROLL GARNER Vol.3
'Erroll Garner Plays Misty' Original Recordings 1953-1954
Erroll Garner was a true original. No pianistsounded like him before he rose to prominencein the mid-1940s, and few ever played with hisconsistent joy. Throughout his career, Garnerdefied several stereotypes. He was always verypopular yet never watered down his music. Hisstyle did not change much after 1950 yet it neverbecame stale, overly predictable or safe. In atime when jazz was being seen as more 'serious'and less entertaining, Garner had no troubleexciting large crowds. And although he neverlearned to read music, he wrote several notablecompositions including 'Misty'. Music seemedto magically flow through Erroll Garner, and hegave the impression that he never even neededto look at the keyboard; all he had to do was sitdown at the piano.
Erroll Garner was born 15 June 1921 inPittsburgh. His older brother Linton Garner wasa fine pianist although one who settled inCanada and never became that famous. Errolldeveloped his technique early on and, by thetime he was ten, he was playing on the radiowith the Kan-D-Kids. After getting out ofschool, Garner worked professionally in thePittsburgh area for a few years including withthe Leroy Brown Orchestra during 1938-41. In1944 he moved to New York and for a year wasa member of bassist Slam Stewart's trio. Itwould be the last time he would work regularlyas a sideman.
Garner began recording as a leader in late1944. By the time he left Stewart's group, hehad developed his own recognizable style. Onmedium-tempo pieces, he often stated everybeat with his left hand like a chordal rhythmguitar while his right played chords slightlybehind the beat, creating a distinctive echoeffect. On ballads, Garner tended to berhapsodic and emotional, hinting at cocktailpianists but utilizing much more sophisticatedchord voicings. In addition, he delighted increating playful free-form introductions to tunesthat did not give hints to his bassist anddrummer what song was coming up. Garner'sunclassifiable style to an extent emulated aswing era orchestra but he was flexible enoughto fit into the world of bop too. In 1946 herecorded a session with Charlie Parker andsounded quite comfortable. Garner's popularitygrew steadily during 1945-50 and his famebecame international after having a successfulvisit to France in 1948.
One of Garner's great skills was his ability tosit at the piano and record one gem afteranother. It was not unusual for him to recordenough material in one session for two or threealbums, all first takes, all well worth hearing.
The material on this collection dates fromthree sessions from 1953-54 which resulted in aremarkable total of 54 selections, 24 cut on27 July 1954 alone. Both bassist Wyatt Rutherand drummer Fats Heard made their debuts asmembers of Garner's trio on the 27 February1953 session and they toured regularly withGarner until late 1954. Ruther and Heardplayed quietly and with solid swing, followingtheir leader's every move for, if they did not payclose attention, they would be immediately lost!Stompin' At The Savoy is given a hardswingingand concise treatment. As was alwaysthe case with Garner, he keeps the melody closeby even during his most adventurous moments.
I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm has anabstract introduction before settling into amedium-tempo groove, one full of passionatechordings and witty changes in dynamics. YouAre My Sunshine races along at a fast pace andhas a few unexpected key changes that make themusic even more dramatic. If there was anydoubt about Garner's virtuosity, this version of\You Are My Sunshine" can serve as proof thatfew other pianists have ever been at his level.
The way that I've Got The World On AString starts out, one would swear that it wasgoing to resolve into a blues instead of acheerful swing standard. It is full of unexpectedmood changes. Rosalie is swung with moreferocity than one imagines its composer ColePorter ever envisioned.
Duke Ellington's In A Mellotone isreharmonized in colourful fashion by Garnerbefore he adopts a lighter touch for most of thesong. Don't Worry 'Bout Me is taken at whatcould be called an 'Erroll Garner ballad tempo',a very slow pace that allows the pianist to drawout every note and infuse it with his sincereemotions. In contrast, All Of A Sudden (MyHeart Sings) is normally taken very slow, soGarner treats the song as an exuberant rompthat fits its title.
Misty is heard here in its earliest recording.
It has since been recorded hundreds of times byother artists including Sarah Vaughan who madethe definitive vocal version, but all of itstenderness and warmth can be heard in this onebeautiful chorus. Duke Ellington's I've Got ToBe A Rug Cutter never became a big hit but itsexplosive joy was a natural for Garner to exploreand build upon.
There's A Small Hotel features Garner'schordal approach to drawing out the melody ofa ballad. Exactly Like You is taken slower thanusual but proves to be quite effective at therelaxed tempo.
George Shearing has always loved to imitateErroll Garner for the fun of it, so it is a joy tohear Garner playing Shearing's biggest hitLullaby Of Birdland, sounding like himself whiledisplaying some of the ideas that Shearing'borrows' now and then. On this performance,Garner gives one the impression that he couldhave played for seventeen minutes rather thanseven without running out of exciting ideas.
Avalon starts out with one of the pianist's mostwhimsical introductions before he attacks thesong at a dizzying tempo while always soundingrelaxed.
There Is No Greater Love is taken so slowlythat at first one wonders whether Garner will beable to hold on to one's attention throughoutthe six minutes. However the pianist's wit,creativity and that wonderful Garner soundmake this a highpoint. An uptempo Will YouStill Be Mine ends the collection with outburstsof joy and some of the happiest choruses onewill ever hear.
Throughout his career, Erroll Garner neverdropped in popularity or lost his enthusiasm forplaying music. He remained a major force untilillness forced his retirement in early 1975. Hepassed away in Los Angeles on 2 January 1977at the age of 55. Nearly thirty years later, nosuccessor has taken his place and one suspectsthat that statement will still be true a centuryfrom now. There was only one Erroll Garner.Scott Yanow - author of nine jazz books includingJazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and JazzOn Record 1917-76