Mr. Inside: Red Garland at 100
Typecast as a catalyst in the Miles Davis Quintet, the pianist deserves a fresh listen.
Hackensack, New Jersey — Oct. 26, 1956. A red light flickers on at Van Gelder Studio. Miles Davis, the leader on the session, calls a tune and then instantly chides the band: “Hold on. When you see a red light on, everybody’s supposed to be quiet.”
His pianist, Red Garland, starts into a genteel, tinkering prelude. After a few seconds, this meets with the irl equivalent of a record scratch: Miles whistles, snaps his fingers. “Play some block chords, Red,” he rasps. A moment later, possibly in response to a nonplussed look from the piano bench, Miles says it again: “Block chords, Red.”
Garland obliges with what I can only describe as passive-aggressive poetry: his articulation of those block chords, setting up the songbook standard “You’re My Everything,” somehow conveys both gilded elegance and grudging insolence. The opening measure sounds… would sarcastic be a stretch? I can’t help myself, it does. And yet Davis got precisely what he wanted: Garland’s four-bar intro lands gracefully, and Miles delivers a gorgeous reading of the melody, his close-miked Harmon mute accentuating every nuance of breath and phrasing.
Did Garland get what he wanted too? As we approach his centennial — he was born in Dallas, Texas on May 13, 1923 — I’ve been asking myself variations on that question. Today I’d like to kick it around a little, and see where that gets us.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial