Monday, December 05, 2005

Red Garland & Gene Harris - No Respect!

I was listening to some old out of print records by The Three Sounds this weekend, and was reminded once again how much I enjoy Gene Harris' playing. The group certainly wasn't groundbreaking in any conventional way, but boy, did those guys know how to swing. While he did posses the technical brilliance of Oscar Peterson, or the inventiveness of Bud Powell, or the rhythmic and harmonic edge of Thelonious Monk, it's hard to say that I like Gene's playing any less for it. Yet while there are a number of fine Gene Harris records on Concord in the bins, you won't find many by The Three Sounds for some reason. Gene doesn't seem to get a lot of respect amongst the jazz cognoscenti, for whatever reason. Listen to those early records from the 60's, that stuff has held up a lot better than quite few more prominent jazz artists of the era.

I think the same can largely be said for Red Garland. I find his work brilliant in several ways - his touch, the rhythmic "bounce" in his playing, the tightness of his trio, and of course his ability to swing. Most people know his simply as the pianist in Miles Davis' first great quintet with John Coltrane. Yet he has a string of great trio and quartet sessions in his own name on Prestige. I especially like the ones with percussionist Ray Barretto sitting in. He adds that same special touch to Red's records as he did to Lou Donaldson's Blues Walk and Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue.

I think part of the problem with Gene and Red is that they didn't die young. Red lived until 1984, and Gene Harris just passed away in 2000 (I can't believe it was that long ago!). Sonny Clark, a similar sort of pianist, who had a much smaller recorded output, has a rather substantial cult following. But he died at age 31 in 1963. Some might say that Sonny Clark was a more original player that Red or Gene, (I love Sonny, but I beg to differ on that one), but even if you feel that way, it's odd how you'll find quite a few Sonny Clark reissues, but not many Gene Harris Blue Notes in the record bins. Just an observation.


Blogger Carl Abernathy said...


I think you're exactly right on both counts. I think the fact that their music was so accessible turned off some jazz snobs, much as the Hammond B3 organ did in the early days.

But my students always comment on the music whenever I'm playing Harris and Garland albums in my office.


5:30 AM  
Anonymous Caleb said...

I agree about Red Garland--criminally underrated. Even a throw-off Red album like All Kinds of Weather is a perfect little trio record. Lately I've also been enjoying the Prestige Profiles disc that features his quintet dates.

6:04 AM  

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