Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Salute to Ed Leimbacher and Erroll Garner

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

“Sixty years! Hard to believe for this Garner fan, who grabbed the LP when it was "hot off the press" - to coin a phrase. And what a treat it was to listen to that live performance by the master in top form. Though, come to think of it, he never was in less than that. No matter where - within the confines of a nightclub, in a concert hall, at an open-air festival, in a recording studio - you encountered "The Little Man" (as Art Tatum fondly dubbed him - he was 5'4") in action, he would hold you spellbound with the musical magic he could coax from a piano, an instrument he made sound like no player ever had before - or would again.

That sound, that conception, was strictly his own creation. Undeterred by teachers, he made his hands realize what he heard in his head, and that was the sounds and rhythm of a big jazz band. A child of the Swing Era, Garner conceived of the keyboard as a combination of a band's horn and rhythm sections, rolled into a single voice. And his uncanny sense of time, his marvelous touch, and wide-open ears made that conception come alive. Once Garner had taught his fingers to do his bidding, he found such joy in making music that it became contagious. His was, as an album title proclaimed, the most happy piano.”
- Dan Morgenstern, Jazz author, critic and essayist, retired Director of the Jazz Institute at Rutgers University

“Artists look to find a connection; a way in, something that matters. This elusive feeling of belonging, of connecting or not, is the friction that helps us navigate the creative map. Acceptance or the lack thereof is a part of everyday life on and off stage.

“Erroll Garner found acceptance from people who loved great music, including his icons Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Count Basie, George Shearing, and Ahmad Jamal. He was a sure creative and emotional bet for his audience as well. His audience understood this and showed up to hear him night after night the world over.
In a rare interview recorded directly after his Concert by the Sea performance, Erroll Garner said, "They made me feel like playing.'"

Perhaps he meant his magnificent trio with drummer Denzil DeCosta Best and bassist Eddie Calhoun, or perhaps he meant his audience who witnessed one of the greatest concerts of all time. Either way Garner seemed to be saying it was the collaborative exchange that made the moment possible - that blending between the audience and the musicians. Garner's music is a direct and uncensored experience, honest and immediate, free flowing, clearly delivered, focused with fearless projection. The newly mastered version of Concert by the Sea with 11 new performances (22 performances in all), gives us more than a glimpse into what it might have been like to witness this great artist night after night. "You could never tell what he might do next" were the kinds of responses you heard from his musical collaborators.”
- Geri Allen, Jazz pianist

“Erroll Garner was a true original in the history of Jazz piano. For reasons I do not understand, considering the high respect other contemporaries had for him, Garner seems to have been forgotten by younger Jazz critics and Jazz pianists alike. There was only one Erroll Garner and it would help every Jazz pianist if they paid a little more attention to his talent and creativity.

These sage words from the impresario and pianist George Wein beg the question: why has Erroll Garner, universally regarded as one of the most important pianists in jazz history, attracted so little attention? Teddy Wilson called Garner, "one of the greatest talents there was.... His harmonies were as modern as tomorrow and his conception of jazz exquisite." George Shearing, who admittedly copped his style, wrote in his autobiography, "Nobody else can play the way Erroll Garner did." Ahmad Jamal once said, "anyone that has not been influenced by Erroll has not been in our field.... Fd say he's from the impressionistic school and of the rank of Ravel and Debussy." One of the most venerated and commercially successful jazz musicians of his generation, Garner performed before sold-out concert halls, won nearly every major jazz magazine poll, appeared frequently on TV talk shows, and was featured in The Saturday Evening Post.

Garner's popularity was due in no small part to his intrepid manager and life-long friend, Martha Glaser. ….”
- Robin Kelley, insert notes to The Complete Concert By The Sea

Ed Leimbacher is one of my Internet Jazz buddies.

We’ve never met, which is probably a good thing for the other important people in our respective lives as I’ve a feeling that if we ever did meet in person, we’d probably never stop talking about our common interests in a variety of things to do with popular culture.

Ed is a writer and a very good one. Some of us push words around. Not Ed. He uses words to create stories that you want to read and re-read. You can check out the full sweep of his style of writing by visiting him at his blog - I Witness.

I think that Ed is at his storytelling best when he is writing about Jazz, but that may be my bias showing.

See what you think.

January 11, 2016

“It's not much of a stretch to designate pianist Erroll Garner the Rodney Dangerfield of Jazz. From the Forties to--what?--the early Seventies, Garner was praised for the myriad sessions he'd cut for labels large and small--Dial and Blue Note, Mercury/EmArcy and Columbia--and he had (still has) one of the most popular and best-selling albums in Jazz history, his Concert by the Sea, recorded live in Carmel, California, in 1955.

Then his place in Jazz seemed to vanish. The Fusion/Disco/Rock Drums/Death of Jazz era came crashing down, maybe more on Erroll than others. His exuberant, happy piano was ruled fatuous and simplistic, partly because he couldn't read music. (So every session was truly improvised, first note to last.) The style he had devised--long, quizzical, inventive introductions followed by a kind of theme-and-variations dissection of the song, ending (usually) in a percussive, emphatic, slowing-to-a-stop of the music--was finally rejected as more ignorant than original, and his habit of grunting along with the melody sneered at (before Keith Jarrett brought a whole barnyard of ecstatic noises to the recording studio). Because the diminutive, elfin Erroll needed telephone directories to lift him higher on the piano bench, even this quirk was held against him. Yes, he couldn't "get no respect."

Garner died in the Seventies before the digital era and multiple-reissue CD sets brought artists back from Jazz obscurity. But throughout the decades of his eclipse,Concert by the Sea kept selling. I first heard Garner in the early Sixties, another college kid more ignorant than hip, drawn to the bouncy joy of his records, and then I got to see Erroll in action at the Seattle World's Fair. I didn't know anything about Jazz back then, but I had no trouble enjoying Garner at the keyboard; I subsequently learned of his proficiency (able to record enough tracks in one three-hour session to produce three separate 12-inch LongPlay records!), and I even loved his deluxe two-disc set of tunes celebrating Paris and France, many of them played on harpsichord. My vinyl copy of the Carmel concert had to be replaced a couple of times as the years passed, and I finally gave up imagining an expanded issue. But a couple of months ago, without much fanfare, The Complete Concert by the Sea suddenly appeared, 60 years on.

First we must acknowledge the startling largesse of this set - now twice as long as the hallowed original - launching 22 grand excursions instead of the merely wonderful 11 chosen for the classic Concert album. And let no man (no woe-man) beguile you with carping, because the new numbers are just as splendid as the long-familiar eleven. BUT the set now does bump up against a couple of minor matters: a possible surfeit of sufficiency, and (what we might call) the natural order of things. The Complete Concert now takes up two of the three discs, each totaling over 60 minutes in length, so we are farther than ever from the third-of-an-hour sides of the original 12" disc. It is unexpectedly clear that the LP era trained many millions of us His-Master's-Voice, Pavlov's vinyl dogs to live out our lives in 20-minute segments. I guess you could say that these 60-minute CDs are therefore easy to listen to but hard to hear!

Also, recreating the "new" full-length concert rearranged for a chronological placement of tunes, seems to destroy the structured rise-and-fall, the careful build-up to a musical climax, that I believe one can hear in the 11 selections as originally presented. (This arrangement you can hear on Disc Three of the new set. I suppose there must be hundreds of concert albums that silently offer a selection arranged for effectiveness, but being able immediately to compare the two versions I'll bet is uncommon.)

I don't want to belabor the matters mentioned. This three CD set is a veritable feast for sore ears. (As we used to say in Spanish class, Punto final.) Instead, I'm going to end the brief review right here by advising all Garner and Concert by the Sea fans to proceed with abandon rather than caution. What was for 60 years a concise source of piano pleasure has belatedly and amazingly become an embarrassment of riches... even if henceforth I may personally choose to program Disc Three ahead of the other two.”

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