LP REVIEW: Driving down California’s Route 101 to hear piano magic @ Carmel-By-The-Sea, with Erroll Garner, Concert By The Sea (1955)
CBS/SONY – SOPM 152, JAPAN RE-ISSUE IN THE “BEST JAZZ COLLECTION” SERIES, 1974, MONO
We kicked off this jazz review initiative with an Erroll Garner album, see RPJR#1. This week we are building on that first review with one of the most famous jazz albums of all time, Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea.
Erroll Garner was a giant in terms of talent but at 1.57cm rather short in stature. He was often seen sitting on a couple of telephone books. Below is a rather fun picture of that. Erroll Garner viewed himself as an entertainer. He had a built-in enthusiasm that clearly inspired his piano playing.
If you like to dig a little deeper you can take 45m and listen to a podcast with some good stories and background for this album. I listened to this one, but there are many others. If you have 5 minutes to spare, here is a good one on NPR.
This album was a best-selling album in its day. It sold more than 1 Million copies. For some reason, it resonated with a huge audience beyond the traditional jazz fans. Columbia brought this out as part of the “Best Jazz Collection” – a series of about 48 records covering classics in jazz.
The album was recorded at the Sunset School at Carmel-By-The-Sea (CA) which had a 700+ seat auditorium. Many concerts were played there and at some point, these concerts morphed into the famous Monterey Jazz festival.
The sound is not great – the recording quality and the tapes of this concert were subpar and the piano appeared to be somewhat out of tune. Columbia initially tried to create a better-sounding master tape by applying some mastering tricks in 1955 but in the end, it was impossible to get around the core issues. The bass and the drum sound like they were played in a different building and the mic accidentally picked them up :-). Note that Denzil Best uses wire brushes only – no sticks – the effect of which further reduces the impact of the drum.
There are many versions of this album – Discogs counts about 138 releases over the years – including a 3CD version (2016) which contains 11 extra tracks played at the concert but never before issued on record. I have a CD (1987) with a remastered version (they claim it’s mastered from the original analog tape). It sounds passable but the mono record under review here sounds much better. You get a better feel for the sustain of the piano. The bass and drum problems are the same. Overall don’t let this deter you. Just do not expect an audiophile experience, but it’s still a pleasant listen.
Not sure how to categorize this album. There is swing and bop and straight ahead jazz – it somehow blends these all together. In the context of the fifties, this is perhaps why the LP earned such broad appeal.
It just sounds happy. Erroll Garner is such a distinctive player. Playful, innovative, and with a lot of enthusiasm and percussiveness. He also had this very recognizable ‘grunting’ noise going where he sort of hums along with the music. Erroll never rehearsed his concerts and he expected his fellow band members to follow him. Sink or swim. That’s jazz for you. The skill to be able to do that and produce great music is amazing.
There are many classic tunes on this album, such as the famous ‘Autumn Leaves”. Check out the long intro which leaves you completely in suspense until he breaks into the well-known melody of the tune.
Some Controversy …
If you are interested in this album, I can recommend you read the review on raggywaltz. Apart from getting a more detailed review of the music, there is this whole thing with the cover shoot to talk about and the rather odd situation about the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) which somehow ‘overlooked’ this album and even posthumously never recognized Concert by the Sea as a Gold album despite the fact that it is one of the best selling jazz records of all time.
…. fortunately, it’s the music that speaks loudest and stood the test of time. You can listen to the entire album here:
RAW MUSIC STORE
The album is not available online so ask Yassine or Sam in the store if you want this record. The price is 160AED. You are getting a stone-cold classic and a piece of jazz history on vinyl that still sounds better than the best CDs of this album.
|A1: I’ll Remember April|
A2: Teach Me Tonight
A3: Mambo Carmel
A4: Autumn Leaves
A5: It’s All Right with Me
B1: Red Top
B2: April in Paris
B3: They Can’t Take That Away from Me
B4: How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me
B5: Where or When
B6`: Erroll’s Theme
- Erroll Garner on piano
- Denzil Best on drums
- Eddy Calhoun on bass