Thursday, May 01, 2008

Erroll Garner on DVD

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
No artificial ingredients


One thing I try to call attention to every so often is how much good music is on DVDs. Many music enthusiasts, I am convinced, think DVDs are strictly for movies, and miss out on music performances on video.

This disc, which I rented from Netflix, is said to be the only filmed performance of Garner available on DVD. It's from two episodes (obviously shot at the same session) of a British TV program broadcast in 1964.

I gather Garner isn't quite held in the highest esteem by some alleged jazz connoisseurs. In his time he was very popular among audiences across the board, not just jazz specialists. That counts against him. If he belonged to any stylistic category, it was probably swing, with (on this recording) an occasional touch of stride piano.
Yes, he was old-fashioned: he seems not to have been influenced in the slightest by bebop, and played the kind of straight-ahead, melodic jazz that he and his audience loved.

Well, I do too, and more than ever after hearing and seeing him on this DVD. His playing is brilliantly imaginative, if never quite taking flight at the altitude of Art Tatum. One characteristic that sets him apart is the sheer joyousness of his music making. It sparkles. It uplifts. Right from the get-go, on Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," the performance is happy — not in a corny, emotionally manipulative way, but naturally and infectiously.

Those who are used to modern jazz concerts might be a little disconcerted by the short songs and the lack of solos by his able bassist and drummer. I feel pretty sure this was not Garner's choice, but was determined by the director. Each show was only half an hour, and the director probably felt that the mass TV audience wouldn't relate to long solos.

Thank goodness someone cared enough to digitize these old films so they could be preserved on DVD. The mono sound is fine, and the video quality isn't bad, considering the vintage and the TV provenance (it's black and white, of course). The film stock had degraded a bit with age, but not enough to interfere with your pleasure at watching this great artist.

quite decent direction includes a variety of close-ups and camera angles. The close-ups of Garner's face as he was playing are unfortunate, though, designed as they were for over-the-air broadcast and small screens; with DVD resolution and a large screen, it's only too apparent that he was perspiring under the hot lighting needed for the cameras.

How I wish I could have heard Erroll Garner at a live concert, except that if I had, I'd be very old now.


What was I thinking of? " … I'd be very old now." I was in college in 1964! I could have heard Garner in concert and be exactly the same age I am.

I guess I am old now. But I don't feel old. Either that, or I am losing my marbles from age-related dementia.


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