When Geri Allen first contacted Christian Sands about performing the music of Erroll Garner in a tribute to Concert by the Sea at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2015, Sands didn’t know a lot about the pianist other than his influence.
“I knew his playing, I knew the comping thing,” he says, sitting backstage at the Newport Jazz Festival after a performance paying tribute to Garner. “As a pianist, Erroll is such a force and somebody that, just being a jazz pianist, you kind of go through automatically, whether you know it’s him or not. He came through other people as well, but also the way he used the piano was really just the perfect way to use it. The comping, the playing of the solo, the rhythm aspect of it, the swing aspect of it, the double-time stops, the doubling in the right hand with the octaves.” But his sole direct exposure to Garner came from tapes that mentors like Dr. Billy Taylor gave him which included a cut or two of Garner, right next to a cut of someone like Grover Washington, Jr.