Erroll Garner, Live in ’63 & ’64 (2009)
Jazz Icons Series IV
Performers: Erroll Garner, piano; Eddie Calhoun, bass; Kelly Martin, drums
Program: Belgium 1963: Erroll’s Theme; I Get A Kick Out Pf You; Fly Me To The Moon; Sweet And Lovely; It Might As Well Be Spring; Misty; Where or When; Thanks For The Memories; Sweden 1964: Erroll’s Theme; When Your Lover Has Gone; Fly Me To The Moon; Mambo Erroll; My Funny Valentine; One-Note Samba; Where Or When; Thanks For The Memories; Erroll’s Theme
Studio: Reelin’ in the Years Productions 2.119021 [Release date: 10/26/09] [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: English DD mono
Extras: 20-page booklet with notes by John Murph, rare photos & memorabilia collage
Length: 60 minutes
This is the first DVD we’re covering from the new fourth edition of the acclaimed Jazz Icons series. It is one of seven DVDs featuring performances filmed throughout Europe, in this package by Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Woody Herman, and Anita O’Day. All seven are also being sold in a deluxe boxed set together with an eighth bonus DVD of more rare and never-before-seen performances by the same artists. As with the earlier three boxed sets, the sources for these DVDs come from one of the most creative periods in jazz history, when no television outlets in the U.S. (not even PBS) were doing much of anything about presenting these great jazz artists. On tours of Europe, TV stations were – although it must be admitted that many of these B&W films were never aired there either. They have resided in the vaults and only recently have been newly discovered, transferred and remastered to yield the best cleaned-up images and sound. The producers of the series worked with two new European TV archives for the first time on this fourth series: the BBC and the French INA libraries. Both have massive jazz holdings and will be sure to add more titles to this fine series. Some of the sources are lower-quality kinescopes but others look as good as the Hollywood big band shorts of the 1940s. The sound is only mono, but has been excellent on every DVD we’ve viewed. These performances have never been officially released before.
Distinctive jazz pianist Erroll Garner was discussed much when Ken Burn’s ten-part PBS documentary JAZZ: The Story of American Music came out. Namely because he was entirely omitted from the series. A number of jazz experts howled, including trumpeter Jon Faddis, the New Yorker’s jazz critic, and actor/pianist Dudley Moore. People may remember Garner as the guy who wrote Mistry, but today he is an underappreciated jazz figure. Reuben Jackson of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington Collection observed “…seldom has anyone wed so many aspects of the music’s development and history into such a daring yet accessible package.” Garner had a completely unique orchestral approach to jazz piano, bringing the entire keyboard into his interpretations. He was also known for his wild often atonal-classical-sounding improvisations with which he prefaced many of his tunes. He was able to draw a huge crowd of jazz newbies to his work without sacrificing any of his artistic integrity. His top Concert By the Sea LP of 1956 was on many shelves where no other jazz albums were in evidence. It was so well-known that one small label released an entire-album parody of it by a pianist named Morris Garner, which even included the sounds when during that live concert Garner accidently knocked his ashtray off the piano and burned himself.
These two filmed session with Garner’s trio in a rather small halls were filmed in Belgium in 1963 and in Sweden in January 1964. It’s not just his improvisational wizardry that attracts one, but also Garner’s obvious joy at what he’s about. He’s usually all smiles, demonstrating sheer ecstasy while he plays. He usually sits on his famous Manhattan phone directory, which often had to complement his piano stool due to his height of only 5 feet 2 inches, and the closeups show his black slicked-back hair appearing as if it is painted on. Garner followed the dictum of Willie The Lion Smith, who said piano players should know how to play with two hands. Many don’t, but Garner sure did. He could play around with the tempo while keeping it steady, using his left hand to create propulsion, moving the beat ahead, zapping it up. He was able to make slight retards or rubato between his left and right hands that moved his performances into a unique groove. He was one of those performers who couldn’t read music; maybe that was a good thing. He was never spoiled by the cut-and-dried, everything happening on the beat appearance of the notes on the staffs. In spite of not reading music, he composed the string arrangements for his album which was conducted by Mitch Miller. Those of us who are pianists will see in the many closeups of Garner’s hands on the keyboard in both films that he was certainly far different than your typical jazz pianist.
Garner didn’t ignore trends in jazz. He became respected by many bebop players even though he wasn’t one of them. He kept his individualism thru many different styles in music, and also showed an interest in European classical composers. He died at age 55 of emphysema, and was honored with a postage stamp – not in the U.S. but in Mali. He was truly a giant of jazz and this visual record of his classic performances is a gem.
– John Henry