Sunday, August 19, 2018

CuberQuest - Ronnie Cuber - The Gordon Jack Interview

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




When Gordon Jack, the author of Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective and frequent contributor to Jazz periodicals such as JazzJournal “dropped by” the JazzProfiles editorial offices with an offer to post the following feature about one of our favorite Jazz musicians, how could we refuse?


Baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber is one of the most emphatic and constant take-no-prisoners improvisers in all of Jazz and, like another of our enduring heroes, Phil Woods, he seems to take every opportunity to create powerful and passionate solos, whatever the context.


Gordon’s piece on Ronnie first appeared in the March 2014 edition of JazzJournal and you can locate more information about the magazine by going here.


 © -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.                                                        


“Like many specialists on the instrument the baritone was not Ronnie Cuber’s initial choice from the saxophone family. Performers like Sahib Shihab, Lars Gullin, Cecil Payne, Leo Parker and Gary Smulyan are just a few  who began with a brief dalliance on the alto before making the switch to the larger horn but Cuber’s musical odyssey was a little different. Born on the 25th, December 1941 into a musical family he began on clarinet before changing to the tenor in high school which he continued studying at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.


He took up the baritone almost by accident when he tried out for Marshall Brown’s Newport Youth Band in 1959. At the audition he played Hank Mobley’s four choruses from his 1956 Prince Albert solo which really impressed Brown. Unfortunately there was already a surplus of tenors so Brown bought him a baritone at Ponte’s Music Store near Times Square - long since closed.  That generosity allowed him to join the band which included Eddie Gomez, Nat Pavone and Michael Abene. During his formative years in the ‘50s he had collected recordings of the major hard bop artists like Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins John Coltrane and Pepper Adams.  Inevitably Adams became a strong baritone influence but it was not too long before he found his own unique voice with perhaps more than a little bow to Sonny Rollins and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis.


After leaving the Newport Youth Band he went on the road with Slide Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman. He also worked for a while with Jack McDuff at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa. He achieved a particularly high profile as a soloist in 1964 when he joined George Benson who had brought his popular organ trio with Lonnie Smith from Pittsburgh to New York. Organ groups often included a tenor but as Ronnie said a few years later, “It was different to have a baritone in the front line. I was getting more solo space and much more freedom than I’d had playing in the big bands and I kind of stood out.”



John Hammond who was Columbia’s Director of Talent Acquisition heard them one evening at the Palm Tavern in Harlem. Thoroughly impressed he arranged two recordings for the label in 1966 – The George Benson Cookbook (Columbia CK 52977) and It’s Uptown (Columbia CK 52976). Cuber is clearly in his element performing Benson’s down-home, blues-based repertoire which also includes staples like All Of Me, Willow Weep For Me and A Foggy Day. Incidentally, at this early stage of his career it is noticeable how close Benson gets to the sanctified vocal sound of Stevie Wonder. Ronnie continued to work with Smith and Benson and their 1970 Blue Note release  – Lonnie Smith Live At Detroit’s Club Mozambique - can be recommended (CDP 7243 8 31880 2 4).


In the early ‘70s he began an association with Aretha Franklin and her musical director the soul tenor giant - King Curtis. He also had a close musical relationship with Eddie Palmieri which inspired a love of Latin music that was to become such a hallmark of his performances in later years. This was a period when Disco was King and Ronnie who also played bass clarinet and flute was often working seven hours a day in the New York studios.  Achieving a first-call status he became such an important part of the recording scene there that he was voted the Most Valuable Player by the Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) from 1979 to 1986.


In 1976 he recorded his first album as a leader – Cubre Libre – on the Xanadu label (No.135). It has never been reissued on CD but it is a stunning debut heralding the arrival of a major new performer with fresh looks at Star Eyes, Misty an atmospheric Tin Tin Deo and especially Kenny Dorham’s Prince Albert. The latter with its patented Bird of Paradise introduction is based on All The Things You Are and together with Lennie Tristano’s Ablution is probably the finest of all the originals inspired by Jerome Kern’s classic.


He was a member of Lee Konitz’s cerebral nonet regularly working with them at Stryker’s, the Half Note and the Village Vanguard and after the leader he is the most heavily featured soloist on The Lee Konitz Nonet (Chiaroscuro CRD 186),Yes, Yes, Nonet (SteepleChase SCCD-31119) and Live At Laren (Soul Note 121069-2).  In the early ‘80s he began working on the Saturday Night Live Show recording with the band in 1986 for the Projazz label (CDJ 621). His baritone gifts continued to be very much in demand on sessions with Carly Simon, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Frank Zappa. He excelled whatever the environment but always as a self-proclaimed “bebopper at heart”.


The ‘90s was when he began a series of recordings as a leader beginning with Cubism for Fresh Sound in 1991 (FSR-CD188). The line-up features Joe Locke (vibes), Bobby Broom (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums) who had all worked with Cuber at Birdland. The wide ranging repertoire reflects the many moods of this fascinating album - exotic Afro- Cuban rhythms on Arroz Con Pollo and Barra-Cuber; straight- ahead blowing on I Ronic (Cuber on a borrowed tenor); a James Brown R’n’B feel on Cheetah and finally the sensuous rhumba setting of Ponta Grossa – one of Cuber’s most arresting originals and worthy of something Johnny Mandel might have written.


His next session in 1993 – The Scene Is Clean - is essentially a Latin date with either Manolo Badrena or Milton Cardona added on percussion to a four man rhythm section. The title track by Tadd Dameron was introduced by Lucky Thompson in 1953 but Clifford Brown recorded the definitive version with Max Roach in 1956. Through the miracle of over-dubbing we also hear Ronnie’s alto on Clean and Fajardo which he plays with the elegance of a Benny Carter or Herb Geller. He also revisits Flamingo – Earl Bostic’s big 1953 hit which is a perfect vehicle for his rugged baritone sound (Milestone MCD -9218-2).


Two years later he was again in the studio for one of his finest recordings – In A New York Minute (SteepleChase SCCD 31372). The piano, bass, drum accompaniment is the ideal setting for Cuber especially when the pianist is the admirable Kenny Drew Jnr. Kenny who often worked with him has an especially brisk work-out on Dig based on that old war-horse Sweet Georgia Brown which he concludes with a chorus in octaves. New York Minute is one of several highlights. Based on a simple eight bar descending sequence repeated throughout its six minute duration, it develops an irresistible feeling of exquisite tension.  The well named Con Passion has all the dramatic intensity of an operatic aria allowing Ronnie to demonstrate his amazing facility and powerful sound in the altissimo register.


He began a long association with Charles Mingus’ music in the early ‘90s when he appeared on The Mingus Big Band ’93 CD (Dreyfus FDM 36559-2). His arrangement of Nostalgia In Times Square aka Strollin’ Honies begins with his own hip, Jack Kerouac-style monologue describing how he first sat in with Mingus at Birdland as a youngster. Moanin’ opens with his baritone in the role of a gospel preacher at a revival meeting with vocal encouragement from the band, before he launches forth on that unforgettable theme. Performances like these are surely what tenor man John Stubblefield had in mind when he said, “(Ronnie’s) a pit bull when he and that horn connect”.


In 1996 he was featured with a group of all-stars on Horace Silver’s Hardbop Grandpop CD (Impulse! IMP11922).  Any recording featuring ten new Silver compositions has to be an event and this date was one of the finest from that era. Four horns - Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Michael Brecker and Cuber - create a big sound in the tightly written ensembles and Cuber has several outstanding solo spots on The Hippest Cat In Hollywood, Gratitude, Hardbop Grandpop (our old friend Indiana in disguise), The Lady From Johannesburg, Serenade To A Teakettle and Diggin’ For Dexter.


The following year he launched the Three Baritone Sax Band together with Nick Brignola and Gary Smulyan with a tribute to Gerry Mulligan on Dreyus FDM 36588-2. It is mostly a programme of Mulligan originals plus titles associated with him like Blueport and Black Nightgown together with Cuber’s own Waltz For Geraldus. Although all three took their original inspiration from Pepper Adams the session works very well. As always, there is a hard edge to Cuber’s sound which is quite different to Gerry’s lighter, more ‘Lestorian’ approach. Mulligan rarely ventured into the bottom fifth of the horn when soloing but Cuber positively revels in the lower register which in his case extends down to a low C concert – a semi-tone lower than Gerry’s old Conn could reach


His memorable set with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra is a personal favourite. Arrangers Rob Pronk, Jerry Van Rooyen and Jan Wessels have written sympathetic charts for the soloist with creative use of strings and woodwinds. It is an unusual setting for Cuber that works perfectly on a repertoire of  songbook classics not usually associated with him like Brazil, Love For Sale, The Song Is You, I’ll Remember April and Speak Low. Incidentally, the sleeve note confusingly hints at two recording sessions eight years apart but Tom Lord opts for 1998 alone (Koch Jazz 3-6914-2).


His 2009 quartet date features Helen Sung (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) – all colleagues from the Mingus Big Band. It is an informal set including staples from the fifties like The Duke, Daahoud and Four (the latter rightly credited to Eddie Vinson and not Miles Davis) as well as a couple of fine Michel Legrand standards. There is also an amazing version of All The Things You Are which storms along at over 80 bars to the minute – probably not what Jerome Kern had in mind when he wrote it for the show Very Warm For May back in 1939. It is a credit to the artistry of all concerned that creativity is maintained at such a finger-busting tempo (SteepleChase SCCD 31680).


Later the same year he was reunited with Steve Gadd at the Voce Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Challenge Records CR73326). There is a Ray Charles Let The Good Times Roll feel to this release and although they have recorded together a number of times, these relaxed performances are particularly noteworthy. Cuber is at his most extrovert especially on the opening Watching The River Flow by Bob Dylan. He had recorded it with Gadd in 1986 and with his huge, indomitable sound he takes his cue from the hard swinging accompaniment for a typically swaggering statement which includes a hint of Sonny Rollins’ Solid - a favourite quote. His uninhibited choruses on Sister Sadie and Back At The Chicken Shack call to mind an earlier baritone master – Leo Parker who is an acknowledged influence.  Jimmy Smith’s Chicken Shack of course was popular with British R&B groups in the sixties. I know because I played baritone in one during a long residency at the 100 Club where we played it nightly – sometimes twice nightly.


Ronnie Cuber’s latest release was recorded in Berlin after a series of Italian bookings with the excellent Kenny Drew Jnr. (SteepleChase SCCD 31766). The group find an infectious groove on the opening Tokyo Blues which never lets up throughout the 62 minutes playing time of the CD. They revisit Cuber’s own Passion Fruit based on Summertime with an added bridge. The coda is an extended vamp or montuno creating an exciting Tito Puente feel to the performance. Arroz Con Pollo is one of Ronnie’s frequent excursions into Afro-Cuban territory with another montuno – an essential element of the idiom. Mark Gardner and I voted for this album as one of the best  CDs of 2013 and Mark pulled no punches at the time when he called Ronnie “(the) best jazz bari on the planet.”


Ronnie Cuber who plays a Low A Selmer Mark V1 baritone should be far better known. He is without doubt one of the finest jazz soloists performing today - on any instrument.”


The following video tribute to Ronnie's long-time associate, Ed Palmieri, is set to Ronnie Cuber's interpretation of Eddie Palmieri's AdoraciĆ³n from his The Scene Is Clean CD.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

Anthony Hernandez - "Few Words" - Daniele Scannapieco

Ronnie Cuber - Baritone Saxophonist

Baritone Saxophonist Ronnie Cuber performing Charles Mingus' "O.P." with Holland's Metropole Orchestra featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet and Conrad Herwig on trombone. The arrangement is by Ilja Reijngoud and the orchestra is conducted by John Clayton.






CuberQuest - Ronnie Cuber Quartet - Airplay

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


“ An astonishingly lyrical player on that most unforgiving of instruments… It is the intelligence and subtlety of his playing that shines through …”
- Sunday Express UK


Every so often, I get caught up in the music of someone who floors me;  who - metaphorically - knocks me out.


Sometimes this involves a Jazz musician whose work is new to me.


But more often than not, these epiphanies usually happen when it’s the music of a musician that I am familiar with but whose discography I haven’t fully explored. But once I go for depth, I’m hooked and the more I dig the deeper I get into the power and passion of a particular player.


This pathology deepens and results in a gleeful quest to get my hands on anything and everything by the artist who is bringing so much joy into my Jazz listening life.


The source for my astonishment and wonderment with a given Jazz musician usually centers on what he or she is “saying” in their improvisations.


You hear it first in the phrasing and with the ready expression of ideas while soloing. Jazz soloing is like the geometric head start in the sense that you never catch up. When you improvise something it’s gone; you can’t retrieve it and do it again. You have to stay on top of what you are doing as Jazz is insistently progressive – it goes forward with you or without you.


People who can play the music, flow with it. Their phrasing is in line with the tempo, the new melodies that they superimpose over the chord structures are interesting and inventive and they bring a sense of command and completion to the process of creating Jazz.


Which brings me to baritone saxophonist, Ronnie Cuber.


Born on Christmas Day in 1941, Ronnie has been the source of a lot of musical holiday gifts for the past 77 years since his first “public” appearance with the Marshall Brown Youth Orchestra at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival.
Although, Ronnie did make some recordings under his own name for labels including Don Schlitten’s Xanadu, Orrin Keepnews at Milestone and the Electric Bird/King Record label in Japan, he didn’t really step into the solo spotlight until he began a long and continuing association in 1992 with Nils Winthur’s Steeplechase Records which is based in Denmark.


Over the 25 years since 1992, Ronnie has recorded six CDs for Steeplechase and they represent the most mature and comprehensive expression of his music.


The first of these - Ronnie Cuber Quartet - Airplay [Steeplechase label SCCD 31309] is a great place to begin because it’s where I started my personal CuberQuest and because the insert notes by the brilliant Jazz writer Mark Gardner offer an excellent overview of Ronnie’s career, as well as, a detailed examination of the influences on Ronnie’s style of playing and the elements that make it so unique.


“The baritone saxophone has come a long way from being the background horn that added bottom to the section. In the expert hands of Gerry Mulligan, Serge Chaloff, Cecil Payne, Leo Parker, Bob Gordon, Pepper Adams, Tate Houston, and Nick Brignola it assumed respected solo status in Modern Music. In the early 1960s a new, exciting stylist was heard on the bari - Ronnie Cuber. Most reminiscent of Leo Parker, he brought an ample technique, distinctive tone and swinging mobility to the big horn. Most of all his playing brimmed with vitality and enthusiasm.


Thirty years on [these notes were written in 1992] in an always stimulating career and Ronnie still keeps that hot flame burning brightly. His work is now more rich and complex, but the youthful energy remains like a powerhouse of untapped reserves. The ears have remained open and, significantly, on this his first album as a leader for Steeplechase, Ronnie has surrounded himself with younger men who possess the spark that ignites fires.


Listeners unfamiliar with the Cuber sound and biography should know that he was born on Christmas Day, 1941, in New York, grew up as part of a musical family, studied clarinet and played tenor sax at high school in Brooklyn and won a seat in Marshall Brown's Newport Youth Band alter the leader persuaded him to switch to baritone and bought him an instrument.
That was in 1959 and Ronnie and bari have been companions ever since. Influences included Hank Mobley, Pepper Adams, Cecil Payne and John Coltrane. Accidentally, it seems, his conception contained elements of Leo Parker's tone and drive. Through the 1960s Cuber was able to work with a succession of big bands - Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman - which was invaluable in the jazz learning process.


He was also heard in the small groups of Slide Hampton and George Benson, with whom he made four albums including the important It's Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook. After hearing Ronnie's coruscating solo on Ain't That Peculiar in the former set I became a Cuber convert instantly.


In the following decade, a poor one for jazz, Ronnie worked in lazz-rock and Latin-jazz contexts, backed Aretha Franklin and finally got the chance to record two albums under his own leadership, Cuber Libre and The Eleventh Day Of Aquarius, for Xanadu, also appearing on releases by Sam Noto, Mickey Tucker and the Montreux All Stars for the same label.


At the end of the 1970s he was a member of the Lee Konitz Nonet which recorded for Steeplechase. Since that time he has mostly worked at the helm of his own small group, often a quartet, and has blossomed out as a composer of real substance. Six of his originals are included in the enclosed programme of gripping performances. Each displays a different facet ol the composer/soloist's musical personality as well as an individual mood.


Lending Ronnie unflagging and imaginative support from start to finish are three accomplished musicians well chosen for the assignment - Geoff Keezer (piano), Chip Jackson (bass) and Ben Perowsky (drums).


Geoff Keezer (born, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1970) was encouraged by pianist James Williams and after a year's study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Geoff made his debut album for Sunnyside with Williams as producer. He has already worked with an impressive array of names including Art Blakey and recorded an album of his own for Blue Note. Keezer has exceptional facility and great feeling.


Chip Jackson, another former Berklee student, has been active since the early 1970s and past credits include spells with Gary Burton, Woody Herman, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Red Rodney, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones. A skilled arranger and valued teacher, he is no stranger to the recording studios, having made many albums with the likes of Herman, Chuck Mangione, lack Walrath and Elvin lones.


Ben Perowsky, alert and swinging behind his drums, completes a Berklee triumvirate. Originally inspired by Tony Williams, Ben was helped by his father, tenor saxophonist Frank Perowsky. He has worked with Mike Stern and Bob Berg, James Moody, Roy Ayers and Ricki Lee Jones. He enjoys playing in other musical styles besides jazz. "I come from a family of dancers so I like to see people move, and hearing my dad play since I was a kid helped me develop my musical ear," Ben told Georgia Antonopoulos.


The relaxed opener in this set, is Ronnie's bluesy and modally inclined Bread And Jam, at a nice loping tempo. After the theme, Keezer launches into an excellent solo in which his phrasing sometimes suggests Wynton Kelly and Phineas Newborn. Ronnie rolls relentlessly along in his portion and it's back to the main strain - with no strain. The nifty arrangement makes good use of little drum climaxes.


New Orleans 1951, on an AABA pattern, is really a funky, soul blues with a bridge to add a dash of southern spice. The rhythmic climate would not be alien to rock or rhythm and blues performers. It's a recipe for grooving and Ronnie points the way to be followed by Geoff and a composed Chip Jackson. Although dated 1951, the feel here is definitely of the late 1960s. Cuber fashions an extended, creative ending.


Chip Jackson's Pit Inn is a message in mixed metres, starting in waltz time but easily switched to 4/4, and suggesting other times, when the participants choose. Ronnie and Geoff display great control and involvement, testing their imaginations without losing contact with the material. Jackson steps in for a hugely satisfying unaccompanied solo. Note his arco work in unison with Cuber - two sounds merging to create a new one.


On One For Hank, dedicated to Hank Mobley, Ronnie remembers affectionately his early influence and succeeds in transferring to the baritone, Mobley's long, lithe lines. Hank did not possess a knock-'em-dead tone, but made audiences sit up and listen by logic and elegance of his sinuous improvisations. Cuber catches that feeling of archetypal hard bop here and recalls the flawless phrasing of the maestro.


Jazz Cumbia is an excursion into the Latin vein with Ben applying an appropriate beat and percussive licks. Geoff combines the authentic voicings from the Latin piano style with some Monk shades that fit the context. Cuber, at his most vocal and expressive, employs the lull scope of his horn in a solo ol surging momentum, Jackson makes his bass sing in unusual ways before the quartet chugs on out into a Mexican sunset.


The aptly-named Passion Fruit combines good melodic ideas with typical blues phrases within a Summertime feeling. Ronnie shows his admiration for the' running and leaping style of Cecil Payne here. There's no sag in the passion when Keezer takes over.


Trane's Waltz, the second 3/4 offering of the set, could easily become one of my favourite things which it emulates as a hip-notic re-enactment of a familiar contour. Ronnie's explorations are deep and decisive as he rides a barrage backdrop as Coltrane did so effectively in the early 1960s. The challenge is for the soloist to make the most of the minimal changes with a constantly interesting lateral line. In some hands it can become tedious; Ronnie Cuber keeps it fresh and fine.


Ronnie's Airplay, the title track, was heard first on the Konitz album, Yes, Yes Nonet (Steeplechase SCCD 31119) and loses nothing in its transfer to a quartet setting. Like so many of Cuber's tunes it has startling melodic surprises and rhythmic shifts that are integral parts of the musical fabric. The composer shows his will to wail, and the performance gathers in intensity as it unfurls. By the end his bari must have been close to meltdown! All of which is indicative of how much thought and feeling Ronnie puts into his music.


Commitment has always been high on Ronnie Cuber's priority list. There are no half measures. The myth of the baritone being cumbersome passes into fiction, where it belongs, when you hear just how versatile and responsive the big horn can be under the controlled command of a virtuoso. His overdue return as a leader on this date will be welcomed by jazzers everywhere as a sign that the good guys prevail.”


Mark Gardner


Co-author, The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz



Friday, August 17, 2018

Chain Of Fools (Unedited Version)

Erroll Garner - Easy to Love

George Shearing on Erroll Garner

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


- “Young Garner's father was a singer who played several instruments, as did his older brother, Linton. Erroll was an entirely self-taught musician who hit the keys when he was three years old and never did learn how to read music. But he played like no other pianist, and his flamboyant style was a delight to the ears. He would start a ballad with a long, discordant introduction that didn't even hint at the melody to come. At last when he swung into it, his left hand lay down chords like a guitar, keeping up a steady pulse, while his right hand never seemed to catch up, improvising chords or playing octaves that lagged way behind the beat for the rest of the number. Just a pinch of Fats Waller added spice.


I was fascinated by this fellow's joyously swinging piano, and I sought him out while Louis Prima was on. Erroll was anything but happy. He didn't know many people in New York and was downhearted. No one was interested in listening to him—Louis Prima was the showman attraction. And Erroll was only making forty dollars a week!


He told me he thought he'd go home soon, as it seemed nothing was going to happen for him in New York. Somehow, I had to stop him. I invited him home to 7 West 46th Street, showed him my rented Krakaur grand, and once he got started, it was impossible to pry him off the bench. Little did I know at the outset that he had a bad case of asthma and couldn't sleep lying down!” [p. 176]
- Fradley Garner’s superb English adaptation of Timme Rosenkrantz’s Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969.


“None of my prior experience with recording artists- Erroll Garner included- had prepared me for what happened when Erroll came in to record the session from which this album is 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 came 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, lit a cigarette, loosened his tie, and one minute past the hour announced 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 release. To give the engineers a chance to check balance, I asked Erroll to play something; anything. He played for a minute or 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 bassist Wyatt Ruther and drummer Eugene “Fats” 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 the three hours of normal studio time-but 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, said "Fine."


As for myself, I was happy with everything the first time 'round and repeated listenings to tests since then has confirmed that my first opinion was right.”
- George Avakian, Liner notes to Columbia 12" LP CL 535


“I never had an influence, for the simple reason that I loved big bands. I think this is where part of my style came from, because I love fullness in the piano. I want to make it sound like a big band if I can. I wasn't influenced by any pianist, because when I came up, I didn't hear too many. We used to have places like the Apollo Theater where you could go and hear big bands. They used to come to Pittsburgh and play at the Stanley Theater. I saw all the great bands. I knew Mary Lou Williams when I was a kid. When Fats Waller came, the piano was so sad that he played organ. I'll never forget how he took that organ, blended in with the band and made it sound like forty-four pieces. That sound was the most fantastic thing! I thought, oh my goodness, how can he do that? That's something new to me. I love Jimmy Lunceford, and I love Duke. Jimmy Lunceford and Count Basie taught me how to keep time. Those two bands really laid that on me, and it was a thrill. I think [Basie’s guitarist] Freddie Green is one of the greatest timekeepers in the world.”
- Erroll Garner to Art Taylor, Notes- and-Tones, Musicians-to-Musicians Interviews


Erroll Garner didn’t talk about Jazz very much. He just played it.  And could he ever bring it.


He wasn’t a particularly good interview. You can go through the Jazz literature, but you are more-than-likely to come away empty-handed if you are looking for an expository about Jazz piano by him as told to a Jazz essayist.  Fortunately, he did talk on occasion with other musicians and one of these musician-to-musician interviews can be found in drummer Arthur Taylor’s Notes- and-Tones.   


In many ways, Erroll Garner was an odd fellow, but “odd” in the unconventional sense of the word - unusual,  peculiar, bizarre, eccentric, unusual. And not in the more outlandish definition of the term such as quirky, zany, wacky, kooky, screwy, and freaky.


You get the sense of his uniqueness from the quotations that precede this introduction and also from the following assessment of his talent by fellow pianist, George Shearing, which is contained in his autobiography - Lullaby of Birdland.


“I first heard Erroll Garner on record in about 1945, and my thoughts about him have never really changed from that moment. I said to myself, "This is an astoundingly original style!"


From the outset, Erroll had a very personalized and highly unusual approach. In many ways, he was the most un-pianistic of all jazz pianists because he treated the instrument as if it were an orchestra, which made him one of a kind. If you're used to hearing records by Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, or Hank Jones, all of whom treat the piano very legitimately as a piano, you won't hear very much of that in Err oil's playing. It's true that he did use a lot of single-note solos, but they were more than equaled by what I call his "shout" playing, the technique that he used after he'd finished such a solo. Rather than his fingers just cascading up and down the keys, he'd play these big, massive chords, which he used as what big band arrangers call a "shout," just like a huge ensemble of brass and saxophones. He would do that for four or eight bars followed by another four-bar single-note solo, all the time keeping a steady four to the bar with his left hand. It was almost as if he had Basic's guitarist Freddie Green, with his perfect time, kept prisoner inside his left hand. Regardless of how much his right hand lagged behind the beat, that left hand was always the time governor. There's never been another pianist quite like him, and I don't think there ever will be.


I first met Erroll in person after I'd moved to the United States, when he came back to New York from the West Coast, and I was playing opposite him at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street in 1948—a gig which lasted for quite some time. He was leading the Erroll Garner Trio, which was no less a line-up than Erroll on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and J. C. Heard on drums. It was just ridiculous what they did, they were such a tight group.


Perhaps the best estimation of anyone's talent is, firstly, originality, which Erroll had in spades, and secondly, the musical and technical ability to put that originality into practice. His talent wasn't about being able to play everybody else off the stage by mastering their style and then some, but about being himself. It didn't matter to him what kind of piano he was playing — good, bad, indifferent, they were all the same to him — nor did it seem to affect him if the audience was talking. He would just play up a storm.


Nobody else can play the way Erroll Garner did. I try to get close to it from time to time, and I received a nice compliment from Erroll's manager Martha Glaser, when she said that I'm probably the closest. That's good enough for me, because that's all I want to do—be as close as I can when I'm representing his style. I sometimes used to kid my audience by saying that Erroll and I were always being mistaken for each other, which is ludicrous, really, because he was much shorter than I am. But I loved Erroll.