Carmel, California (officially “Carmel-by-the-Sea”), on the Golden State’s Monterey Peninsula is best known by some for its beautiful scenery, others for its literary legacy, and still more as the tony town where Clint Eastwood served as mayor for two years in the 1980s.
But for jazz fans, it’s the setting for Erroll Garner’s Concert By the Sea. The jazz pianist’s 1955 album – despite being a fairly crude and unplanned recording – quickly became an important live album for fans of both Garner and ’50s jazz in general.
In fact, The Honorable Former Mayor Eastwood — who plays a bit himself — once said, "He's still my favorite piano player of all time." Not surprising, since the most famous tune Garner ever wrote — "Misty" — played heavily in Eastwood's 1971 thriller Play Misty For Me.
Now for its 60th anniversary comes the release of The Complete Concert by the Sea (Sony/Legacy). The 3-CD set now features the entire show (including 11 previously unreleased tracks) with bonus introductions and audio interviews as well as the original edited album release.
“Concert By the Sea was one of the most beloved albums of all time,” says Geri Allen. A noted pianist herself, she co-produced the reissue with Steve Rosenthal, and is director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She also performed a Garner tribute at the recent Monterey Jazz Festival.
“As the musicians discussed our concepts and wishes for the performance at Monterey, everyone knew the record,” Allen adds. “It's a solid and inspirational part of the jazz canon, and especially so for pianists and trios.”
The extra recorded material was found in the archives of Garner’s longtime manager and advocate, Martha Glaser, who died last year at the age of 93.
Her treasure trove of Garner memorabilia, contracts, and more than 1,700 recordings and unreleased studio sessions have been handed over to the University of Pittsburgh. The school is now home to the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, whose aims are both archival and educational.
The track listing includes a wide variety of standards (“Where or When,” “Night and Day,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,”), jazz and pop favorites (“April in Paris,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Red Top”) and a few of Garner’s own tunes (“Mambo Carmel,” “Errol’s Theme”).
All are sonically cloaked in Garner’s distinctive style, which owes just as much to the ivory tickling of classical music as it does to jazz. On the date, Garner – who died in 1977 – was accompanied by bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best.
“Erroll Garner had a very personal approach to the instrument, which in my opinion was connected to the early virtuoso jazz pianists of the two-fisted piano tradition,” Allen says. “He really played the entire instrument from the softest pianissimos to the grandest fortissimos. What a magnificent sound.”
In addition, Allen appreciates the “freedom and fearlessness” she finds in Garner’s playing not
as a fellow pianist but strictly an admirer.
“He could jump out of the window and land on his feet no matter what might be going on!” she observes. “Key changes, tempo, speed, whatever, none of it mattered. He was playing pure and free music.”
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Still, Erroll Garner and his work have not received the attention today of jazz fans and critics who regularly laud many of his contemporary piano players like Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Horace Silver and Oscar Peterson.
Allen says this may be due to several factors, including the hard line that Garner and Glaser sometimes took to maintain control and release of his music, as well as the decades that have passed since his death without a distinct revival or resurgence of interest in Garner’s life and music.
But she does hope that the release of The Complete Concert by the Sea — as well as the start of serious work with the Project — changes that in the coming years.
“We are looking forward to enjoying the music in the archive and continuing to explore performance possibilities with the music,” Allen sums up. ‘We are playing Monterey with Jason Moran, Christian Sands Victor Lewis, Russell Malone and Darek Oles. These are wonderful artists and I am excited to be collaborating with them!”