Erroll Garner – Nightconcert

Title: Nightconcert 

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Mack Avenue

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release Date: July 13, 2018



Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well as Ready Take One the following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,

Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!

Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.

Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.

Reviewed by Jared Griffin

Erroll Garner – Ready Take One

Title: Ready Take One

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Sony/Legacy

Formats: CD, LP, Digital

Release date: September 30, 2016


During his lifetime, Erroll Garner was a somewhat controversial figure with jazz aficionados. The main knock was that he was a technical master of the piano with plenty of flair and piano-bar panache, but not enough soul and swing to be a jazz heavyweight. Despite the bickering among jazz critics, Garner (who died in 1977) did not have trouble filling performance spaces or selling albums, but his place in the public ear waned after his death. His live Concert by the Sea remains one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, and received a deluxe 3-CD reissue (and was nominated for a Grammy) last year. Now, Sony/Legacy has dipped into the archives of Garner’s late manager, Martha Glaser, and found 14 finished but never released recordings, the content of this new album.

Ready Take One is composed of recordings made in 1967 at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago; in 1969 at Capitol Studios New York; and in 1971 at RCA Studios New York. The album closes with a live version of Garner’s hit, “Misty,” recorded in Paris in May 1969. For the 1967 sessions, Ike Isaacs on bass, Jimmie Smith on drums and Joe Mangual on congas backed Garner. For the 1969 and 1971 studio and live recordings, Earnest McCarty, Jr. replaced Isaacs on bass. The fact that the band and style of playing remains consistent throughout makes the album hold together as a coherent sequence of enjoyable tunes rather than an “archive dig” of disjointed musical examples.

According to Robin Kelly’s liner notes, Garner’s style in the studio was much like his style on stage with his band: he would call out a tune and then go, with the band responsible for keeping up with whatever improvisational twists he chose to explore. Fortunately, the backing musicians were up for the challenge, and the recordings sparkle with the excitement of a quartet doing what good jazz musicians do—exploring and reacting to each other rather than playing heavily-rehearsed and written-down music. And, for the record, although all of the players are technically excellent, the album gushes with swing and soul.

One admittedly minor criticism: although the liner notes emphasize the fact that the reissue producers chose to keep audio of Glaser calling out take numbers and a few seconds of studio banter here and there, this “bonus material” does not add anything to the music. In fact, it slightly interrupts the flow of the album.

Six of the album’s 14 cuts are Garner originals; “High Wire” and “Wild Music” are particularly nice. The Paris recording of “Misty” also stands out because, despite playing the song thousands of times to ever-eager audiences, Garner could still bring excitement and a connection of “I’m playing this song just for you” to what was yet another performance. Also interesting is the band’s take on the Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington standard “Caravan.” Garner’s decision to take the melody apart and reassemble pieces of it on unusual beats doesn’t always work, but the approach shows how the band was not content to run through standards in any sort of traditional way.

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The 1971 sessions, especially, show the influence of funk and acid-jazz on more traditional performers. Garner sometimes sounds quite a bit like Ramsey Lewis (“The In Crowd”), and that more-soul/less-swing approach was probably preferred by live audiences of the time. But, Garner never shies away from virtuosity, so there is always crisp execution of complex right-hand runs and rock-solid left-hand rhythm.

Sony/Legacy has an arrangement to mine the archives of Garner and Glaser, and more releases are promised. Hopefully, there is more of this kind of polished music in the vaults. And, hopefully, future reissues producers will assemble and sequence future releases into enjoyable, musically coherent albums like Ready Take One.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Erroll Garner – The Complete Concert by the Sea

erroll garner complete concert by the sea

Title: The Complete Concert by the Sea

Artist: Erroll Garner

Label: Columbia Legacy (Sony)

Formats: CD (includes MP3 download via Amazon)

Release date: September 18, 2015


Many jazz artists are defined—in a sense—by a single album; if you were managing a retail record department, as this reviewer once did, and you were working within a limited budget, that would be the album you would stock before all others. So for John Coltrane, it was My Favorite Things; Count Basie, April in Paris; Cannonball Adderley, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy—these were albums you wouldn’t be caught dead without as they were established, dependable sellers and customers were always looking for them. For Erroll Garner—who made, or was collected into, a staggering number of albums—Concert by the Sea was always the one item you’d stock when anything else was too deep for your budget. It remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time and has remained in-print since its initial release in 1956. Listening to the original album’s 11-song sequence as issued it is easy to hear why; the selection sustains an overall mood, with Garner in dazzlingly brilliant form, as musically evocative of its seaside setting as the familiar front cover image is visually.

That Concert by the Sea was part of a larger argument was apparently only known to its original producers, Martha Glaser and George Avakian, and not even acknowledged in standard jazz discographies, which stubbornly listed the content only as it appeared on the issued album. Lo and behold, Columbia Legacy’s The Complete Concert by the Sea complements the original 11-song selection with 11 more, effectively doubling the size of the recording and adding a post-concert interview, conducted by Will Thornbury, with the principals: Garner, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best. In The Complete Concert by the Sea, the full 22-song concert is contained on discs 1-2, whereas the third is reserved for the album as originally released in 1956, with the interview added at the end.

In issuing this material near the sixtieth anniversary of the original concert, Columbia Legacy is rising to the sense of occasion in adding liner notes by several experts: Dan Morgenstern, director emeritus of the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies; Geri Allen, jazz pianist and director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh; and Robin Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA. Erroll Garner’s approach was based in improvisation and he almost never played the same thing twice; moreover, he was seldom in less than great form. This is despite the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings’ assertion that Concert by the Sea is “essentially neither more nor less than a characteristic set by the trio”—notwithstanding that this was the one recording made of the group with Denzil Best, who spent close to three years touring with Garner, though in a time when Garner was mostly recording solo. This concert at Carmel-by-the-Sea was an exceptional one even for Garner: his playing is bright and buoyantly rhythmic, imaginative and daringly original; turning sudden corners, breaking breathlessly into pockets of free time only to swing back into the groove, sending chains of big right-hand chords up and down the keys with blazing speed.

Editing this concert to fit onto an LP—which Martha Glaser originally did—must’ve been an extremely difficult job, as the stuff left on the cutting room floor was so good. It’s hard to imagine why one would omit the fantastic reading of “Bernie’s Tune” apart from the fact that its opening chords hew a little too close to the ending of “I Cover the Waterfront,” also unreleased. But then perhaps there would have been no room on the vinyl disc for Garner’s shimmering, darkly impressionistic take on “Autumn Leaves,” which did make it. With The Complete Concert by the Sea, there is no more need to separate the good from the good, as Glaser had to do in 1956, and it is a tempting game to second-guess her choices. The Complete Concert by the Sea opens the door to a long overdue assessment of Garner, too long saddled with the mistaken notion that he was a popularly-oriented virtuoso that spun out standards perched atop telephone books owing to his short stature. Rather, Garner was a giant in the field of jazz piano and Sony Legacy president’s comment that Concert by the Sea is “a marvelous, mystical album that has been allowed to dangle on the periphery of broader recognition for far too long” is a point well taken; that Concert by the Sea initially became Erroll Garner’s pick to click, despite its live and somewhat substandard recording quality, was the decision of the record buying public and not that of critics and pundits. Having access to the full concert, 60 years later, confirms that—in this case—the customer was always right; one wonders, in the wake of this essential release, if the editors of the Penguin Guide would like to have their opinion back.

Reviewed by David N. Lewis