Erroll Garner, Ready Take One

As some of you know, my main gig is writing the national-security column for Slate, so, as you might imagine, I've been a bit busy these days. But I emerge from the pit, bearing tidings of joy. Last year, Sony released The Complete Concert by the Sea, not just a remaster of Erroll Garner's classic 1955 live album but two extra discs containing the entire, unexpurgated concert, from start to finish casting new light on the pianist's sparkling wonders.

Now, there's more.

It turns out that Garner's agent, Martha Glaser, who died a few years ago, had socked away thousands of tape reels of music—live concerts, studio sessions, rehearsals—and now her niece, Susan Rosenberg, who inherited the estate, is going through the cache, with the aid of a professional archivist. The first bounty of their labor, Ready Take One—previously unknown studio recordings of Garner and his trio from 1967–71 (also on Sony)—is a treasure, better in some ways than Concert by the Sea and, in any case, a revelation.

We hear Garner not just coaxing finely wrought ballads from the keyboard ("Misty" and a gorgeous original called "Back to You") but also pounding virtuosic funky blues, something close to soulful rock, and a cover of "Caravan" that will have your head swirling.

One thing regrettable about Concert by the Sea, even back when it first came out, was the sound quality: no one thought it would be an album, but the music was so great, Columbia went with the amateur recording on hand; and while the 2015 remaster marks an improvement, it's still dim and distant. The sonics on Ready Take One aren't stellar, but they range from good to very good (the 14 tracks were recorded at different studios with, presumably, different, uncredited engineers). You hear much more of Garner's magic.

More good news: the album is available not only as a CD but as a double-LP with a gatefold cover, replete with evocative photos and an essay booklet. And the two LPs—there's no additional material, only an extra slab of vinyl to allow for wider grooves—sound much better than the CD. You hear more of the piano's body—its reverberations, dynamics, and overtones. You hear more variety of timbres from the drumkit, more pluck from the bass, more room ambience. On a couple tracks, the piano sounds a little tinkly (that may be the piano), but even those tracks exude more presence and air.

Steve Rosenthal of The Magic Shop transferred the original ½-inch, 4-track tapes to 24/192 digital files, which, along with Kabir Hermon and Peter Lockhart, he then mixed to 2-channel (except for "Misty," which is from a mono tape recorded in Paris in 1969). Rosenthal told me in an email, "Although the tapes were stored at nine different locations here in Manhattan for nearly 50 years, they were in remarkably good shape," though he had to bake some of them before transferring, so they wouldn't shed during playback.

And there's more to come, some of it, Susan Rosenberg tells me, this year. Watch for it, and get this.

Allen Fant's picture

Joy indeed! FK
this release is excellent. Hope there is more in the proverbial "works". Happy Listening!

SpinMark3313's picture

Every time you break the news on one of these treasure troves, I can feel my wallet

JazzPlus's picture

I been playing this swinging soulful CD constantly in my car for 40 days now. I am nearly convinced Erroll was the greatest jazz pianist. I can't understand why he is almost forgotten in the jazz schools of today. I guess people prefer "heavy" jazz rather than "uplifting jazz". The great jazz bass player called Erroll Garner "The Happy Man".
My father was a N.Y. pianist in the 50's and he
talked with Garner on several occasions. He told me that
Garner told him that he had learned to play from childhood
by simply standing and watching his older sisters and
brothers practice their piano lesson homework. he emphasized
that other big way he learned to play was to spend hundreds
of hours slowly pumping the pedals of his family's
player piano and while watching and copying how the keys
moved. He did this with ragtime, popular and classical piano
rolls. He said he did this constantly as a child and that it
shouldn't a mystery as to how he had learned to play. He
told my Dad he could actually read a little sheet music but
never fast enough to sight read anything. His ear was
the quickest for him and he would learn songs by slowing
down his record player to half speed or ask another musician
to show him how a tune  went.