“Red Garland has the sublime virtue of swing and a solid, deep groove.”
—Ralph J. Gleason
“The hallmarks are locked chords, lightning single-note lines, rhapsodic out-of-tempo introductions, isolated bell-like notes. Garland generates the hard-edged excitement of hop, yet retains the smooth, swinging, melodic flow common to so many jazzmen from the Southwest.”
If for no other reason, Red Garland would be everlastingly revered by jazz historians for his role in the great Miles Davis Quintet, vintage 1955-57, which also included John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, and bassist Paul Chambers. But recently Red was rejoined by Philly Joe, along with Ron Carter, for an historic trio album on Galaxy, Crossings, as well as an impressive comeback album with Garland as leader, Red Alert.
After spending most of the past 12 years in relative obscurity, contentedly playing regular gigs in Dallas, Texas (where he was born May 13, 1923), Garland was lured back by Fantasy VP/producer Orrin Keepnews, and by Todd Barkan, who put Red on his San Francisco Keystone Korner stage before a week’s worth of adoring audiences.
During a recent return engagement, Red recalled the birth of the great Miles quintet: “Miles and I were in Boston, playing separate gigs. One night we were talking, and Miles said, ‘I want to form a band.’ Philly Joe would be the drummer—that was obvious. But Miles wanted Sonny Rollins, and Sonny couldn’t make it. So I told Miles about this tenor player from Philly, John Coltrane. And he said, ‘Tell Coltrane to meet us in Baltimore for the gig.’ And Miles brought Paul Chambers, who was just a 20-year-old kid working in Detroit.”
Word has it, variously, that there was one brief rehearsal before the gig, or no rehearsal at all. Miles’s method, according to Philly Joe, was to have Coltrane—right on the bandstand—lead off a tune with a long tenor solo. “After Trane started to play,” Philly Joe said, “Miles looked at me and said, ‘I think this is it.’” And, as Garland remembers, “After one week in Baltimore it seemed we had played together about five years.”
Garland’s playing with the quintet (best documented on two Prestige twofers, Miles Davis, P-24001, and Workin’ and Steamin’, P-24034) and his present-day style are marked by a light touch, quick sense of humor, and a total lack of pretense or excess fat. Much of this may derive from Red’s 35 professional fights as an unranked lightweight boxer.
Garland’s first instrument was clarinet, and before he settled on the piano he studied alto saxophone with Buster Smith, who had influenced Charlie Parker. Like Hank Jones, Red got his first major job with trumpeter Hot Lips Page, in 1945. He subsequently worked with dozens of top jazz musicians, including Parker, Ben Webster, the Billy Eckstine big band, Coleman Hawkins, and Sonny Stitt, before joining Miles in October 1955. After 1957, he worked in several groups, some his own, with, among others, Donald Byrd and Coltrane. Last year, a Prestige twofer was assembled entirely from previously unreleased material recorded between 1958 and 1961; appropriately, the twofer is titled Rediscovered Masters(P-24078).
As Len Lyons put it in a recent Down Beat: “Garland was obviously glad he’d returned to the scene. ‘It put some sense into me,’ he said. ‘I thought jazz was all finished, but now I see there are still people who love jazz. . . . I’ll stay out here as long as the reception stays as beautiful as it’s been.”
Red Garland died on April 24,1984.
(Courtesy of Concord Music Group)