Okay, we’re a little late on this one, given that ten of the twelve discs in Erroll Garner’s Octave Remastered Series have already been issued, beginning last September. Yet, it’s never too late to inform you of great music, of which this series stretches from 1961-1976. Magician, the last of Garner’s studio albums, was issued in 1973 and stands among the top five in his recorded work according to most historians. The last album in the series, Erroll Garner Plays Gershwin & Kern will be issued next month, marking his 99th birthday.
Over the past several years many of the criminally underrecognized Garner’s albums have been reissued, notably his landmark 1955 Concert by the Sea in 2015. Yet, this series of Octave recordings, Garner’s own label, is a joint effort between Octave Music and Mack Avenue Music Group. The master tapes for all 12 albums were transferred and restored using Jamie Howarth’s Plangent Process playback system, which removes unwanted noise from the originals. Peter Lockhart, senior producer of the project began working on the series with pianist Geri Allen, then director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh in Garner’s hometown. When Allen passed in 2017 there was a brief pause until pianist Christian Sands stepped into the role.
The recordings have been issued with one unreleased track, and Magician features “Grill on the Hill” as its bonus track. It was discovered and given its title by pianist Geri Allen in 2015. Let’s recap for the benefit of those, like this writer, who are late. The first four titles were issued in September – Dreamstreet, Closeup in Swing, One World Concert, and A New Kind of Love. These have followed – A Night At the Movies, Campus Concert, That’s My Kick, Up in Erroll’s Room, Feeling Is Believing, and Gemini. Lockhart expounds, “There are so few artist-owned catalogs that are this important and this large and have so much unexplored material to work with. And it’s not just the music but a million pieces of paper – all his telegrams and correspondence, contracts, pictures, and then there’s his clothing, jewelry, artwork. There’s so many things to explore, and we’re trying to encourage more people to go to the [Erroll Garner Archive at the University of Pittsburgh] and engage in scholarship about his life and his work.”
Consider that the recordings for Magician took place in 1973 when many top pianists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were turning to the Fender Rhodes. Garner stayed with the acoustic piano for a mix of originals and standards, his originals considered by many to be among his best. Even though it proved to be his last studio recording in four decades worth (Garner only lived to be 55 years old), it finds him in spontaneous, vibrant spirts. One can even hear his patented grunts on bluesy tunes like “It Gets Better Every Time.” Personnel includes Grady Tate (drums), Bob Crenshaw (bass), Norman Gold (organ), Jose Mangual (congas) and Jackie Williams (tambourine), a slight expansion from the typical trio.
Garner’s lyrical, sparkling touch graces such tunes as his romantic original “Nightwind,” and the gospel-ragtime hybrid “One Good Turn,” two clear standouts. Garner has a very bluesy piano style across about half of these tunes, shifting into romantic or swinging modes on the others. His choice of standards was more contemporary than dated, opting for Bacharach and David “(They Long To Be) Close to You” and “Watch What Happens,” the latter which he takes at a furious tempo. Yes, some are older such as Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” and the ‘30s musical song that later became a huge hit for the Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You.” The varying tempos, bits of wit, excitable flourishes, and solid rhythm section backing keep this one engaging. The sound quality is superb too. For more information, including complete liner notes, visit www.errollgarner.com/ORS By all means, seek out the others in this series and stay tuned for the last in the series next month.