Red Garland and Charlie Parker


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Charlie Parker and pianist Red Garland played together several times at clubs between 1947 and 1949 in Philadelphia and again in Boston in the early 1950s. But despite their many gigs, only four known tracks exist of Parker and Garland playing on the same date. These tracks are from a Boston radio broadcast in March 1953. The recordings represent the merging of two Midwestern players, both of whom were influenced by the same saxophonist and were deeply rooted in the blues. Yesterday I spoke briefly with Roy Haynes, the drummer on the Storyville date. More with Roy in a moment.

The year 1953 was an important one for Garland. In addition to his Boston broadcast with Parker, Miles Davis had approached him to join a group he was forming. The musicians Davis lined up were Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Max Roach on drums. Garland happily agreed, but the group never came to be. Davis was struggling to kick a drug habit, and by the time he resumed recording for Blue Note in 1954, Horace Silver was on piano.

So for the next year or so, Garland continued playing behind Lester Young and many other headliners who passed through Boston. In March 1955, Miles Davis returned and asked Garland to be part of a recording session for Prestige with Oscar Pettiford and Philly Joe Jones. Davis wanted Garland to play light and airy, like Ahmad Jamal, and the result was The Musings of Miles. By October, Davis formed a new group, the famed quintet, with Garland, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers.

But two years before Musings of Miles and the emergence of his Jamalian piano approach, Garland was trying to find himself stylistically in Boston, as captured on the recordings with Charlie Parker.

Born in Dallas in 1923, Garland's first instrument was the clarinet. He soon switched to alto saxophone, taking lessons from Texas saxophonist Buster Smith [pictured], who insisted that he also learn to play piano. Smith also was a big influence on Charlie Parker.

In the Army in 1941, Garland practiced furiously, taking informal lessons from two Army pianists. Back home after the war, Garland joined Hot Lips Page's orchestra in Dallas and toured with the band. When Page's band arrived in New York in 1946, Garland, like many musicians at the time, decided to break off on his own and freelance. He worked in New York with Billy Eckstine's band for several weeks and then played with saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis.

From 1947 to 1949, Garland was in Philadelphia as the house pianist at the Blue Note, working behind Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins and many other name players who arrived at the club in need of a pianist and rhythm section.

By the early 1950s, Garland increasingly was in demand, and he soon found himself in Boston playing as the house pianist at George Wein's Storyville. Which is how he came to appear with Charlie Parker, Roy Haynes and bassist Bernie Griggs during a radio broadcast on WHDH in March 1953 hosted by announcer John McLellan.

Four songs were performed live and somehow recorded--Moose the Mooch, I'll Walk Alone, Ornithology and Out of Nowhere. Parker is relaxed and peppery on these tracks, while Garland exhibits terrific time and a bluesy touch. But this isn't yet the Garland who would flower under Davis' direction two years later. Nevertheless, the result is fascinating, and what we hear in Boston is the beginning of Garland's earthy, polished sound.

On Moose the Mooch, Garland's solos are pure bebop, which he artfully mixes with rich chord voicings. On the walking-tempo ballad I'll Walk Alone, Garland comps beautifully behind Parker. When Garland solos, he combines Milt Buckner lock chords with Nat Cole-style improvisational lines in his right hand.

Ornithology is taken at its standard breakneck pace, but Garland here provides an interesting laid-back bop solo. The last track, a mid-tempo Out of Nowhere, features Garland's best solo, which edges closer to the rich style the pianist would employ extensively with Davis.

Throughout the set, drummer Roy Haynes is pushing and shoving, dropping bombs on the bass drum, sneak-attacking on the snare with sticks, and churning out a lovely sandy swish with his brushes. [Photo of Roy Haynes by John Abbott]

When I spoke with Roy yesterday, he recalled the Storyville date:

“Red and I made up the house rhythm section at Storyville. He was going with a girl up in Boston so he liked to work there steadily. Red and Bird sounded great together. When you've got a genius up front like Bird, he's listening to everything and absorbing it. Red was doing the same. You could hear them listening to each other. They were a nice fit. Hey, what do you expect? They had a great drummer [laughs]. By the way, the bass player, Bernie Griggs, was something. If he had lived longer, he would have been great."

JazzWax tracks: The Charlie Parker-Red Garland tracks are the first four on Charlie Parker at Storyville (Blue Note). They represent the first known recordings of the pianist. You'll find this album at iTunes or here.

JazzWax note: For a fabulous bio of Red Garland and interview with the pianist, dig Doug Ramsey's classic Garland profile ("Seeing Red") in the March 1977 issue of Texas Monthly here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Parker and Garland together live in March 1953 at Storyville on I'll Walk Alone. Dig Garland's lock chords passage toward the end of his solo, and Roy Haynes' jack-in-the-box bass-drum accents throughout...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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