The Red Garland Quintet featuring John Coltrane and Donald Byrd
Pianist Red Garland's very relaxed, marathon blues solo on the 16-minute "Soul Junction" is the most memorable aspect of this CD reissue. With such soloists as tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and trumpeter Donald Byrd, plus steady support provided by bassist George Joyner and drummer Art Taylor, Garland gets to stretch out on the title cut and four jazz originals, including "Birk's Works" and "Hallelujah." Coltrane is in excellent form, playing several stunning sheets of sound solos.
All Music Guide
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In the early fifties, Luckey Roberts ran an after-hours club in Harlem. Luckey had been the dean of New York ragtime pianists in the early decades of the century, and had influenced James J. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington, among others. Lucky remembers that Red Garland was a frequent visitor to his place. "Red would ask me questions,"says Luckey, "and keep requesting certain tunes." "I used to drop in." explains Red, "because Luckey is a real two-handed pianist. He plays with ten fingers, and that's what I like to hear."
Not generally known is that one of the pianists Red paid particular attention to when he was starting was James P. Johnson. Another was Art Tatum. "He was Mr. Piano, to me. I remember being so pleased when somebody asked Art in the mid-forties which of the younger pianists he thought were going to amount to something. Art named Dodo Marmaroso and me."
Red, for all his identification with modern jazz, has had a remarkably broad background of listening experience. He's also similar in temperament to many of the older' generation of jazzmen in that he loves to play, after hours as well as on the job. Red regrets very much the passing of the jam session. "I go around and ask people to start up a session, but they all seem so withdrawn these days. And yet, it's in sessions that jazz really develops. When musicians begin trading ideas, new things get started, and then it spreads. That's what happened with Parker, Gillespie, and all of the early modern players."
This album illustrates both Red's strongly personal modern style and his considerable grasp of the jazz tradition as a whole. "A big influence," Red continues, "when I began in Dallas was Nat Cole. I was very impressed by his touch and conception, especially by the way he phrased. People don't give Nat the credit due him as a pianist "Cole besides was a consistently lyrical player, and Red too has always sustained a singing line. "Then there were Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum.. When I heard Bud Powell, I really became involved with modern jazz, but nobody ever much influenced me after Bud. That's not to say there aren't pianists I particularly like. Two of them especially are Hank Jones, who's very underrated, and Oscar Peterson."
An echo from Red's listening background is the motif of the opening Soul Junction. "Bob Weinstock asked me to play some slow blues," Red recalls, "and this theme popped into my mind. In part, it's from Floyd's Guitar Blues, the number guitarist Floyd Smith used to play with Andy Kirk." Red plays the blues with an unselfconscious naturalness that again reminds me of the poised confidence of the best swing era pianists. There's no grunting or pounding the blues into soul-for-sale music. This is simply unpretentious blues, the common jazz language, carried on through the decades by thousands of players. Note too Red's Wilson-like gentleness of touch which is, however, also firm and which articulates each note with a ringing clarity. Red gets a "sound" from the piano that's refreshingly and thoroughly pianistic. He's not one of the drummer-pianists.
Red receives relaxed support from Arthur Taylor and George Joyner throughout the long, (ruminative) blues. "I'd worked a lot with Art, and have felt for a long time that he's one of the steadiest and most swinging of drummers. George Joyner was rather new to me at that date, but he fitted in very naturally." John Coltrane takes the first solo and blows with direct, strongly emotional power. His intriguingly structured variations indicate how freshly he approaches even a simple theme. To Coltrane, everything is a challenge. And always, as has been noted, there is a demandingly communicative "cry" in Coltrane's playing.
Donald Byrd is one young modernist who didn't allow early attention from the critics to push him into megalomania. Since coming to New York, he has continued studying, both at the Manhattan School and in a wide variety of playing experiences. His work, as in this opening blues, has grown in strength and decisiveness from the fluent "humming-bird" quality that characterized him during his early months in New York.
Woody'n You, Red remembers, "was the first modern tune I ever heard in my life. It was in Dallas years. A trumpet player, Oscar Williamson, found the record by Dizzy on the juke box, and played it for me. "I'd never heard anything like it. I laughed; it made me so happy. I admit I was confused at first, especially by the way Dizzy ran his progressions, but I began to catch on." In this version, Donald Byrd again indicates the added bite to his playing that began to be noticeable around the time of this record. There is also the increased depth of tone, even in as quicksilver a solo as this one.
During his years with Miles Davis, Red grew to know John Coltrane's style well. "I've always been struck by the continuity of his ideas and by his unique way of handling changes,"Red observes. "He can start a chord in the strangest place. The average cat might start on a seventh, but Coltrane can begin on a flatted fifth. And he has the damnest way of breaking chords down, but I have no trouble accompanying him because of that sense of continuity I was talking about." John is characteristically free of cliches in his solo here, and yet his self-absorption in the potentials of a tune never results in cold intellectual exercises. This is as hot jazz playing as can be heard in contemporary jazz. Red builds a solo of thorough clarity. There is muddiness neither in Red's touch nor in his sequences of ideas. And throughout, there is his energizing beat, almost like an exceptionally fleet, jazz-oriented dancer's.
Birk's Works is a favorite of Red. "It's a naturally swinging thing, no matter who plays it. It has a built-in-swing. The tune is like a minor, 12-bar blues in structure; but Dizzy somehow worked it into a very distinctive theme "Note Red's superior solo, one of the best of his I've heard. It has a forward-moving inevitability that has to do again with the clarity of his ideas and also with his rolling beat. Coltrane, who seemed to be making everything he reached for this day, digs in with a slashing, burning solo that is, however, ordered and organically interrelated. Also impressive about Coltrane is the sheer pulsating force of his beat. Byrd is also intense here but less ferocious thaa Coltrane.
I've Got It Bad, the song that Ivie Anderson explored with aching definitiveness while with Duke Ellington, underlines Red's capacities as a ballad player: "It seems to me," says Red, "that one reason many of the younger pianists seem uncomfortable with ballads and have to double-time them is that you have to have lived what a ballad is talking about. You have to know and experience the beauty of a woman, and the losing of it. Maybe some of those youngsters have never really been in love. You have to play this kind of song out of your life." Byrd plays with silvery openness of tone and thpughtfulness of conception. Coltrane effectively understates the yearning of the song but makes his emotions clear. Red's caressing closing section includes an xpressive, reflective George Joyner solo.
The final Halleluiah is a high-spirited "head" with Red's nimble solo never blurring the line; Coltrane searching into the interstices of the tune (firmly followed by Joyner); and Donald Byrd crisply carving his own variations. As in Coltrane's solo, Garland and Taylor dramatically lay out during parts of Bird's statement, leaving him and Joyner to drive ahead. A. T. juggles polyrhythms, and the band returns to end what strikes me as an unusually free-flowing but temperamentally cohesive session with more meaningful spontaneity than most.
Red is now happily leading his own trio, and does riot intend to return to band work if he can help it Yet, as this album and all the ones he made with Miles Davis indicate. Red has as personal a skill in combo playing and accompanying as he does when soloing with just rhythm background. Miles Davis and Cannon-ball adderley, among others, have lauded the buoyant sureness arid taste with which Red accompanies horn men. And for all the preaching these days of the need for roots. Red has unaggressively made clear his feeling for and knowledge of the jazz tradition for a long time.
- Nat Hentoff (co-editor The Jazz Review)