The Complete Concert By The Sea (3-CD Release)
Columbia Legacy 2015
Review by David Bowling
Erroll Garner is many times a forgotten figure in the history of American jazz. The irony is he was not only commercially successful but also had a very distinctive style and sound, which ranks him among the greatest jazz pianists of the 20th century.
While he usually recorded solo or in small combos, he approached the jazz idiom from a big band and swing perspective. His piano became the substitute for the brass section as he explored the song’s melodies. He also had the uncanny ability of playing different rhythms with each hand.
One of the highlights of his career was the release of his Concert By The Sea album. Backed by drummer Denzil Best and bassist Eddie Calhoun, who provided a tempo for his improvisations, he produced some of the most enduring music in jazz history.
The original concert was recorded September 15, 1955, in Carmel, California. Eleven tracks were culled from the performance for the original vinyl release. Now, to mark the 60th anniversary of the event, the complete 22 song performance will be released for the first time. Spread over two discs it presents the concert as it happened. The third disc contains the original vinyl release plus interviews with the three participants following the concert.
As good as the original release was, it only presented unconnected parts of the concert. This new release has everything in order including announcer Johnny Lyons. It allows the listener to get into the flow of the music and enjoy the cohesive nature of the songs.
Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” and the Rodgers/Hart Tune “Spring Is Here” lead off the concert and neither appeared on the 1956 release. They are the tone setters as Garner settles into a groove that will continue throughout the concert.
Highlights include the intricate patterns of “Cover The Waterfront,” the improvisation of the swinging “Will You Still Love Me,” the changing tempos of “Sweet And Lovely,” and an extended version of the classic song “Caravan.”
Garner rarely presented introspective music; rather his music made a person happy. His melodies and improvisational excursions were not hard to follow despite his technical brilliance. He never learned to read music so he played by feel and memory, which set him apart from many of his contemporaries.
The original Concert By The Sea is considered the highlight recording of his career. Now the Complete Concert By The Sea has exceeded it. It resurrects some of the finest jazz music of the 20th century and then some.