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Red Garland Live: A Time-Machine Discovery

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Pianist Red Garland (1923-1984) was an integral member of the Miles Davis Quintet and a key collaborator with John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, at a time when those leaders were swelling in popularity during the late ’50s and early ’60s. A hard-bop player, Garland also led his own bands mostly for the Prestige and Galaxy labels, with many of his recordings still available.

He was a master of swing and lyricism, and his solos and records remain as influential as ever with today’s up-and-coming jazz musicians. Yet, curiously, Garland’s fame and status as a top-tier pianist was never as fully appreciated as peers like Nat Cole or Ahmad Jamal—both stylistic contemporaries back in the day.

A monster release like this makes a perfect starting point to meet Red Garland.

Swingin’ on the Korner: Live at Keystone Korner is one of those jazz time-machine discoveries, a previously unreleased live date from December 1977, recorded at the Keystone Korner club in San Francisco. It’s a Red Garland Trio two-CD release (also available as a three-LP audiophile vinyl package) with the renowned drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. It has been remastered and near-magically brought back to listenable form from the club’s original soundboard tapes—cassette tapes, if you can believe that.

It’s a generous package with cool photography, well-written liner notes, and insightful interviews and essays from Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, Kenny Washington, and others in a well-produced 44-page booklet.

But the music is where it’s at. This was at a time when Tin Pan Alley tunes, Broadway stuff, “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Autumn Leaves,” and songs by Cole Porter (“Love For Sale”) are shuffled freely within the set list with jazz standards by Monk (“Straight, No Chaser”) and Milt Jackson (“Bags’ Groove”). This is what people wanted to hear back then and what guys like Garland played so well; the inclusion of “Billy Boy” (which Garland practically owned) is a highlight.

The time of year gives Garland permission to add his take on Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song,” but the flow is tight so you’ll be thinking jazz instead of snowflakes. It’s easy to hear that Garland and his trio are intimately connected to the material, playing with rhythmic swing and smooth harmonics against hard beats and sweet melodies.

It’s been over 30 years since the pianist passed away. A monster release like Swingin' on the Korner serves to give him the props he fully deserves—and makes a perfect starting point to meet Red Garland.

This article is from the February 2015 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More information.