Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Erroll Garner in Carmel, California for A Concert By The Sea

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The DVD of the 1963 concert in Belgium with Erroll includes a stunning reading of Garner's most durable original composition, "Misty," which had already proved a pop hit both for himself and for several singers.

Garner looks particularly happy to be playing it. Throughout the tune, he sits there drenched in perspiration but with a beaming smile on his face and an irresistible expression of joy.

He looks like someone who has just enjoyed the single most pleasurable experience a man can have – at least while wearing a tuxedo.”
- Will Friedwald

“By the early 1950s, Garner had settled into his preferred format and style – swashbuckling trios which plundered standards with cavalier abandon.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Erroll Garner (1921-1977) was entirely self taught; at the keyboard he was a fun loving ruffian. … No pianist is likely to have admired his technique, but many envied his witty and melodic improvising, which seemed to flow from a bottomless reservoir.”
- Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists

In terms of furthering my Jazz education at a time when there was virtually no such thing available on a formal basis, probably the most important step I ever took was subscribing to the Columbia Record Club when it first came into existence.

Although I have forgotten the exact details, I seem to recall that subscribers received three of four Columbia LP’s for a low price as a signing bonus with their pledge in return to buy a specified number of albums during a one year period for the retail price plus shipping.

The subscriber could reject the Club’s monthly selection [or its alternate] by simply returning the postcard that announced these choices before the due date stamped on the card.

Therein lay the rub.

I was a teenager and remembering anything except the source of whatever instant gratification I was into at the time was a major hassle, let alone a sheer, biological and psychological impossibility. I mean, c’mon; who ever heard of a responsible teenager?

Talk about a contradiction in terms.

Because I never seemed able to remember to return the Club’s cancellation notice by the cut-off date, in-the-door walked the likes of Columbia’s Such Sweet Thunder by Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah-Um, the Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaboration, Miles Ahead, Brubeck’s Dave Digs Disney, Art Blakey’s Drum Suite and Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea.

In other words, through my [inadvertent] carelessness, I provided myself with the best Jazz education there is – listening to Jazz greats play it.  Because some aspects of Jazz really can’t be taught, I was able to learn more about it by hearing it performed on these classic, Columbia LP’s.

[I realize that this generalization is open to debate and I certainly mean no disrespect to the many hard working Jazz educators out there.]

Of these Columbia Record Club Jazz masterpieces, I was so impressed with Erroll Garner’s playing on Concert By The Sea that I wrote to Columbia Records requesting an autographed photo and actually got one in return!

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles was in Carmel, CA recently and while there, it collected images by some noted photographers who specialize in this area.

With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities of StudioCerra, we thought it might be fun to create a video montage of these images of Carmel, CA and the Monterey Peninsula set to Erroll’s Mambo Carmel from Concert By The Sea.

You can locate the video at the conclusion of these excerpts from Stanley Dance’s insert notes to the recording and some thoughts by Will Friedwald about how the record came about and its significance which appeared in the Wall Street Journal [September 17, 2009].

© -Stanley Dance, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Erroll Garner was a natural, a phe­nomenon. He never learned to read music, but he could create more of it spontaneously than the most schooled musicians in his field. He recognized the source of his gift in a characteris­tically modest statement: "The good Lord gave it to me and I'm trying to develop it." And he did that in his own unique fashion until he was the most popular piano player in the world. With a Manhattan telephone direc­tory (or its foreign equivalent) adding height to the piano stool, the elfin Garner- became an international star comparable to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

Like Ellington, he was a good listener with good ears and a good memory. He absorbed what he liked from all that he heard, thus constantly nour­ishing his melodic imagination. And it was undoubtedly his emphasis on mel­ody and rhythm that endeared him to millions. Contrary to concepts preva­lent as he rose to fame, he esteemed his audience and always sought to please or entertain it. Writing in 1971, Melvin Maddocks aptly described him as the Happy Entertainer, and at that time bitterness and anger were very much the vogue artistically. Going his own way, then as always, Garner was subconsciously linked to an earlier jazz tradition.

For all the originality of his style, the pianists whom he referred to as his basic influences were Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Earl Hines. Significantly, both Hines and Garner came out of Pittsburgh, and when producer George Avakian began to work with the latter at Columbia he had decided Garner "was the greatest thing to come along on the piano since Earl Hines." Each of these artists broke stylistically with contemporary modes and each was endlessly inven­tive, yet neither one saw anything demeaning in the notion of entertain­ing those who paid to hear him. Although communication was certainly at issue, it could be achieved with minimal compromise.

Born in 1921, Garner had begun to play piano when he was three by imi­tating phonograph records. He was playing publicly when he was seven and later even worked on the Alle­gheny riverboats before setting out for New York in 1944. There he quickly found a place for himself among the swarming jazz talents on 52nd Street, and there his prolific recording career began almost imme­diately. By the time he signed with Columbia in 1950 he had recorded as an unaccompanied soloist, in trios, with alto saxophonists Benny Carter and Charlie Parker, with tenor saxo­phonists Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson and Teddy Edwards, with Howard McGhee, Charlie Shavers and Vic Dickenson, not to mention the orchestras of Georgie Auld and Boyd Raeburn.

These achievements were a triumph of both ability and personality. Musicians liked this quiet, unas­suming guy who could constantly surprise them with his keyboard fantasies.

Garner's style was essentially orches­tral, unlike the horn-like, single-note style of the fashionable beboppers. His left hand laid down a firm beat like that of the rhythm guitarists in the big bands. Against it, with the right hand's phrasing lagging slightly behind, he improvised a rich tapestry of sound, one full of dynamic con­trasts like those of the Ellington and Lunceford bands, where solos con­trasted with brilliant ensembles and where the ensembles themselves were notable for carefully nuanced shading. Like those of such bands, too, his programs were knowingly devised to give audiences a stimulat­ing variety of music at different tem­pos and in different moods. The impact of his lushly romantic versions of ballads, for example, was height­ened by that of his driving interpretations of rhythmic numbers, and vice versa. In either vein, the sheer plea­sure he manifested in playing reached out and enchanted listeners.

When this album, Concert By The Sea, was recorded at Carmel in Cali­fornia in 1955, his reputation was established and his popularity immense. The area's coastline was beautiful, the acoustics in an audito­rium that had formerly been a church [known today as the Sunset Cultural Center] were perfect, and the audience was warmly appreciative, all of which undoubtedly helped inspire Garner, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best that night. Yet when Gar­ner's manager, Martha Glaser, brought a tape of the performance to George Avakian, he was at first daunted by its technical deficiencies. The spirit of the music was such, how­ever, that he devoted two weeks to making "a good-sounding master out of it," as he explained in James M. Doran's revealing book, Erroll Gar­ner: The Most Happy Piano (Scarecrow Press).

“The rest, as they say, is history – still the all-time best selling Jazz piano album of them all.”

© -Will Friedwald, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The pianist Erroll Garner was one of the great improvisers of all time -- and not exclusively in his music. As writer John Murph notes, a New York Times profile of Garner in 1959 by John S. Wilson observed that the musician refused to make any kind of plan until the very last minute; he cooked elaborate dishes without the aid of a recipe book by simply throwing different ingredients together and tasting; he taught himself to play golf without instruction. He also played thousands of songs entirely by ear, without ever bothering to learn to read music, and composed many original tunes that way, including the standard "Misty." Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that Garner (1921-1977) made his best album -- the legendary "Concert by the Sea" -- practically by accident.

On Sept. 19, 1955, Garner (who is also represented on a wonderful new DVD of two concerts from Europe eight years later, "Live in '63 & '64," as part of the Jazz Icons series produced by Reelin' in the Years and available at www.reelinintheyears.com) performed at Fort Ord, an army base near Carmel, Calif., at the behest of disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons. Martha Glaser, who served as Garner's personal manager for nearly his entire career, happened to be backstage when she noticed a tape recorder running.

As she recalled for the Journal last week, it turned out that the show was being taped -- without Garner's knowledge -- by a jazz fan and scholar named Will Thornbury, strictly for the enjoyment of himself and his fellow servicemen. Ms. Glaser told him, "I'll give you copies of every record Erroll ever made, but I can't let you keep that tape." She took it back to New York (carrying it on her lap), where she assembled it into album form, titled it "Concert by the Sea," and then played it for George Avakian, who ran the jazz department at Columbia Records. Garner had actually left Columbia three years earlier, but, as Mr. Avakian recently told the Journal: "I totally flipped over it! I knew that we had to put it out right away."

When Columbia released "Concert by the Sea" a few months later, this early live 12-inch LP was a runaway sensation. It became the No. 1 record of Garner's 30-year career and one of the most popular jazz albums of all time. It's not hard to hear why: From the first notes onward, Garner plays like a man inspired -- on fire, even. He always played with a combination of wit, imagination, amazing technical skill and sheer joy far beyond nearly all of his fellow pianists, but on this particular night he reached a level exceeding his usual Olympian standard.

"Concert" begins with one of Garner's characteristic left-field introductions -- even his bassist and drummer, in this case Eddie Calhoun and Denzil Best, rarely had an idea where he was going to go. This intro is particularly dark, heavy and serious -- so much the better to heighten the impact of the "punchline," when Garner tears into "I'll Remember April." Originally written as a romantic love song, Garner swings it so relentlessly fast that you can practically feel the surf and breeze of the windswept beach image from the album's famous cover.

The sheer exhilaration of Garner's playing never lets up; even when he slows down the tempo on "How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me" (a tune also known as Duke Ellington's "Sultry Serenade"), the pianist shows that he's just as adroit at playing spaces as he is at playing notes. The bulk of the album showcases his brilliant flair for dressing up classic standards such as "Where or When" (when Garner plays it, he leaves the question mark out -- you know exactly where and precisely when), but "Red Top" illustrates what he can do with a 12-bar blues and "Mambo Carmel" comes out of his fascination with Latin polyrhythms.
"Concert by the Sea" has never been off my iPod. Sadly, it's also one of the few classic jazz albums that has never been properly reissued. If any album's audio could use a little tender loving care, this is it; the original tape was barely a professional recording, and the bass, for instance, is barely audible. Sony issued a compact disc in 1991, but it's just a straight transfer of the 1955 master, and the digital medium makes it sound worse rather than better.

More frustrating, both Ms. Glaser and Mr. Avakian confirm that the original tape includes, in Ms. Glaser's words, "a whole album's worth of unissued tracks" (four of which are listed in the Online Jazz Discography at lordisco.com) that still exist in the Sony vaults. "We didn't put them out at the time because Erroll had already done those songs for Columbia," says Mr. Avakian. "But ideally there should be a new, remastered CD that includes the complete concert." Ms. Glaser, who continues to represent the Garner estate, and Sony Music Entertainment have been unable to work out an agreement for the release of the additional material.

The overall disappointment in the lack of a definitive "Concert by the Sea" package is alleviated somewhat by the excellent new DVD of two subsequent concerts by Erroll Garner, from Belgium in 1963 and Sweden a year later. Both shows are replete with Garner's famous bait-and-switch trick with tempos: "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "When Your Lover Has Gone," both normally slow love songs, here become rollicking and strident, while "Fly Me to the Moon," usually heard as an uptempo swinger, shows Garner at his most tender and introspective. He plays "My Funny Valentine" with so much harmonic ingenuity and melodic originality, with cascading runs of notes that enhance rather than distract from the romantic mood, that you don't even mind hearing that overdone chestnut yet again.

The most irreverent performance here is also Garner's most classically inspired. In his treatment of "Thanks for the Memory," he goes comically overboard with classical references: "To a Wild Rose," "Voices of Spring," Liszt's "Lieberstraum" and Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor." In a 1983 interview on a liner note for a French LP, the pianist Martial Solal praised this aspect of Garner's artistry, likening his use of quotes "to telling jokes," adding: "The independence of [Garner's] hands was very seductive. I even transcribed his solo on "The Man I Love" -- that was one of the only pieces I've ever written out. For about three months I tried to play like Garner."

The concert in Belgium also includes a stunning reading of Garner's most durable original composition, "Misty," which had already proved a pop hit both for himself and for several singers. Garner looks particularly happy to be playing it; throughout the tune, he sits there drenched in perspiration but with a beaming smile on his face and an irresistible expression of joy. He looks like someone who has just enjoyed the single most pleasurable experience a man can have -- at least while wearing a tuxedo.

—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.”