Sunday, December 04, 2016

Listening to Prestige 217: Red Garland

I remember buying this album way back when, and I remember loving it. Keep in mind that I came to jazz from rhythm and blues, and while I was learning to love everything about jazz with an elemental passion, rhythm and blues was still in the deepest part of my heart, and I was enthralled that Red Garland would include, along with the jazz standards that made up the preponderance of this album, a rhythm and blues classic: Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love."

Now, five decades later, my tastes have grown and matured, and...well, no, they haven't. I still love classic rhythm and blues in the deepest core of my heart, and I still get the same thrill listening to Red Garland's rendition of "Please Send Me Someone to Love."

I knew the song first from the doowop version by the Moonglows, with Harvey Fuqua singing the lead. I fell in love with it then, and fell deeper in love with it when I heard Percy Mayfield's heart-rending version. Mayfield was called "the poet of the blues," and his brooding imagery was widely admired. Art Rupe, who recorded him for Specialty Records, was later to say that with the right kind of encouragement, Percy could have become another Langston Hughes.

No one was looking at the Los Angeles-based label, drawing on New Orleans talent, the label of gospel singers and Little Richard, for the next Langston Hughes, any more than they were looking to the Chicago-based R&B label started by the Chess brothers. Rhythm and blues and rock and roll had a hard time being taken seriously as music in those days, and no one was looking at Percy Mayfield or Chuck Berry as candidates a Nobel Prize, or for Poet Laureateship. They should have been.

As good as Harvey Fuqua's vocal was, over the insistent piano triplets that underpinned the doowop sound, Red Garland's piano actually comes closer to capturing the lament in Mayfield's voice, and his lyric: a lament for the suffering of the world and one soul's loneliness.

And yes, jazz does give you more. The rhythmic complexity of Art Taylor, and especially the richness of Paul Chambers, add depth without sacrificing any of the immediacy. Garland and the trio give ten minutes to Mayfield, and they really explore its possibilities.

Garland goes a little outside the bebop canon for the Benn Goodman swing era classic, "Stompin' at the Savoy," which turns out to adapt itself seamlessly to a modern treatment.

Standards make up the rest of the session, beautiful ones from Ray Noble, Lerner and Loewe, Fields and McHugh, and the Gershwins.

Miles Davis may not have particularly liked anyone a whole lot, and probably no one likes their record label. Musicians hate their labels, artists hate their galleries, writers hate their publishers. And for the same good reasons: not enough money, not enough marketing support. But Miles may not have hated Bob Weinstock, as these things go. He bequeathed to Prestige's owner his rhythm section -- and as we shall see, his tenor player. This was one heck of a bequest.

The album from this session (plus a couple of tunes from a previous session) was called Red Garland's Piano, and Prestige also released a couple of 45s. Appropriately, "Please Send Me Someone to Love" was one of them, split onto two sides. Later, they'd release the swinging "Stompin' at the Savoy," b/w "He's a Real Gone Guy," from a subsequent session.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

No comments: