At the Prelude
Garland is best known for his stint with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1955 to ’58 and for Davis’ insistence that he play like Ahmad Jamal. Although he may have borrowed from Jamal, Garland was a distinctive stylist whose block chords became a trademark and an influence on subsequent generations of jazz pianists. This two-CD set, recorded live with bassist Jimmy Rowser and drummer Charles “Specs” Wright at a Harlem club in 1959, is a superb example of his strengths and leadership. A few of these performances have never been issued before, and the others have been scattered over four albums.
The program is all standards and blues. “Bye Bye Blackbird” is a famous carryover from Davis’ book. Then there are a couple of deliciously slow ballads, “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “Mr. Wonderful.” Garland surely knew how to build a performance and swing at a slow tempo. Rowser’s big-toned walk cuts through when Garland metes out the melody in treble tinkles. “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Satin Doll,” Perdido,” “Like Someone in Love,” “Just Squeeze Me”—all club-date standards now. How many pianists have copied Garland’s style on these and others?
“Prelude Blues” shows how the trio slowly builds to a powerful climax. “Cherokee” (uptempo, naturally) features Wright—neat, dapper, a controlled flame. Garland uses Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” as a tag for sets you don’t want to end.
For me, listening to this album is almost like a trip back to when I first got into jazz. This was the way for a piano trio to play back then—the bluesy treble figures, the block chords nailing the beat, the two-beat or walking bass, the crisp drum fills and controlled ensemble dynamics. Nostalgia aside, this is a wonderful and still-relevant set. No intellectualization required. You will be moved; the swing is that solid.