The first jazz pianist I could name was Red Garland–his block-chord style had my attention. Fully and completely. I think I was in high school when I first heard him.
What I didn’t know in those days was how simple it is to voice right-hand chords like Red Garland–just octaves with a 5th in the middle. Whether or not the 5th agrees with whatever the chord is doesn’t matter. What I know now is how hard it is to get anything from that simple voicing that’s even close to what Red Garland got from it. But that’s the nature of magic and artistry. Red Garland had both.
A few days ago I found a Red Garland album on Youtube I hadn’t previously known of. It’s a gem and that’s understatement.
Rojo from 1958 features George Joyner, bass. Ray Barretto, congas, and Charlie Persip, drums. We Kiss in the Shadows from that session may be one of the most amazing ballad performances by a jazz pianist ever anywhere. The pacing, tone, control of dynamics, phrasing and the octave-with-fifth right hand voicings. Perfections. All, of it. And Rudy Van Gelder recorded the session. Which means the sound of the recording is, well, at the standard of Rudy Van Gelder. This recording is a jazz lesson. In particular a jazz piano lesson A music lesson overall.
Back in the day, my day, I played at Roy Eldridge’s 80th birthday party at the Blue Note. Ted Curson was the band leader. Ray Barretto sat in with us. Around that time I played a gig with Charlie Persip in Hoboken across the river from NYC. That was and is the nature of New York City.
Had I known of Red Garland’s Rojo recording I would have loved to have asked them–Ray Barretto and Charlie Persip–about it. Specifics, what they remembered from the session. Because it is absolute perfection. Back in the day–their day or Red Garland’s day– perhaps it was just another session, even with a picture from the session of Red Garland with ice cream cone.