Saturday, February 04, 2017

Listening to Prestige 240: Red Garland

Red Garland's playing is always spot on, and his song selection is always the most interesting. Here he starts out with the traditional children's song "Billy Boy," and it's more than just a gimmick. He makes a six and a half minute improvisation out of a tune that turns out to have been a pretty good choice.

Remember that fadlet among super-hip beboppers to include snatches of nursery rhymes in their solos, either sung or played? This isn't that. Garland treats "Billy Boy" as a tune worth his attention. He cuts out the jingly aspect of the melody when he plays the head, but the melody is still there, and it forms the basis for his improvisation. Actually, Paul
Chambers, in his bowed solo, stays closer to the melody, and that really is kinda cool. "Billy Boy" may not have the sophistiicated chord changes of a GASB pop tune, but then, neither do the blues.

"It Could Happen to You" is one of those sophisticated pop tunes, this time by Jimmy Van Heusen, and it's the first of three tunes that Garland and Chambers also recorded with Miles Davis during the Contractual Marathon. Interesting that he chose to do three in a row of tunes closely associated with Miles, but they're tunes he apparently wasn't quite finished with. Every Red Garland Trio number is to some extent a showcase for Paul Chambers, and this one (in this case a plucked solo) is no exception.

The log lists this as a quartet session, but actually it's only a quartet--rounded out by Kenny Burrell-- for the other two Miles covers, "Four" and "Walkin'." "Four" is by Miles, and one of my favorites among his compositions. The interplay between Garland and Chambers and Burrell is so perfectly realized that you almost can't tell where one left off and another one started, in spite of the tonal and stylistic differences between them. And one has to give a few kudos to Rudy Van Gelder for the balance.

Composer credit for "Walkin'" is given to Richard Carpenter--the bad Richard Carpenter, one of the most egregious thieves of other people's music in American history. The tune was almost certainly written by Jimmy Mundy, and I've written about it before. Again, it's a textbook demonstration of three great soloists working together in a group without horns, and features some especially tasty work by Burrell.

Then back to the trio again, for an Irving Berlin number, "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song," that
hasn't been widely recorded even though it was nominated for an Academy Award back when "Best Song" Oscars really meant something. Dinah Shore, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald have the best known versions, and if there are any other jazz instrumentals, I haven't found them, which is odd, because the melody is the best part of the song. Here Garland really takes center stage, in a stately and moody version.

"Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is, fortunately, not the Connie Francis hit. It's a really nice bluesy ballad originally recorded by Little Jimmy Scott in 1949 and re-recorded by him with Lionel Hampton in 1950. Both versions are beautiful. Lavern Baker and Michael Jackson, among others, have also recorded it, and Red
Garland has such a feeling for this sort of R&B-tinged blues. I love the song, and I love his reading of it.

The day wrapped up in a most satisfactory way, with Red's version of a five o'clock blues, "Hey Now!" which was combined on a 45 with "Billy Boy." The album was called Red Garland Revisited!, and the question of trio or quartet is nimbly avoided, as Red's name takes top billing, with the other three tucked under. The label on the record itself just credits Red.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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