The keys of time

Red Garland played with legends and then became one. So why is he barely known in his hometown?

"I was always in awe of him," Ivery says. "Whenever we were on the bandstand, it was an experience I can't explain. It's something I will cherish forever. I wish he was here today. I talked to Red every day. He would call me, and we would talk an hour, two hours. Then, when we'd get off the phone, he'd say, 'You coming over?' I'd sit over there till one in the morning, and we'd talk, talk, talk. I wish I had a tape recorder. We talked about Dizzy, Max, Charlie Parker. He said that when he played with Charlie, he didn't want to solo after him, he was so good. I asked him if he recorded with Parker, and he said yeah, but he didn't know what happened to the recording. The record they did together, Live at Storyville, came out a year after Red passed. He passed without even knowing about it."

No doubt Ivery will share those stories and myriad others come June 12, when the first installment of the Jazz Legends Festival kicks off at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Ivery will play with his band, then appear on a panel with Texas Jazz author Dave Oliphant and other local jazzers who knew Garland or who were influenced by his precise, poignant playing. It's the least Ivery can do: talk about Red Garland till the piano player no longer stands in the shadows.

"Red's name got lost in the mix somehow," Ivery says. "People knew who he was, but didn't know at what level his fame was. And maybe that's because Red was a secluded kind of a guy. He didn't open himself up to a dialogue with the media. He didn't do interviews. He may have done one in New York, but he just told them, 'I told you guys you ask the same questions all the time, and I tell you the same things all the time.' Once, when we played New York, we made an escape from the club and made it to the hotel room, and this guy from Jazz Times found out where we were staying and lived in the hotel lobby for two, three days and finally caught up with us. Red agreed to talk to him--he had to.

"And when he moved back to Dallas in the 1960s, I didn't see anything printed in the local papers regarding his reappearance on the scene. I knew him because of his records, but when I first heard him or saw his name on a record label, I didn't even know he was from Dallas. I found that out when I was in the Army. A friend told me there was a guy from Dallas on Miles' records. I said, 'A guy from Dallas? I don't know who that could be.'"

It seems so odd, so unfortunate that a man as influential as Garland--a man whose career touches upon so many milestones, who made the transition from swing to bop to cool to post-bop to everything else in between--has never been given his proper due. There exist no books on Garland, and only a handful of magazine articles--most of them dating back 15, 20 years. Ivery says critic Stanley Crouch was once working on a Garland biography--he even came to town to interview Red and Marchel, and to collect other materials from them--but that nothing ever came of it. This, despite the fact that Garland's is a most riveting story that includes his brief career as a welterweight who lost one of his few pro fights to Sugar Ray Robinson.

And while, if nothing else, the bulk of Garland's material remains in print, there is no proper boxed-set best-of to put his work in perspective. Davis and Coltrane each have dozens of boxes to their names--most featuring Garland; there's not even a best-of-Red on the market to lure in the novice who's too timid to buy such masterpieces as 1959's Red Garland at the Prelude, Vol. 1 or 1960's Red Alone.

"Everything he touched was gold," says Oliphant from his office on the University of Texas at Austin campus. "But I was talking to someone the other day, and they said, 'Red Garland? Never heard of him.' It was someone I thought should know a jazz figure like that, but they had no idea, and it's hard to say why. It mystifies me. Either people don't pay that much attention to names in groups--they know Miles, but not who played with him--but if they know his work in the '50s with Miles and Trane, they have to know the name. And if you go to the record store, there are always 10, 12 albums in the bins. He has as many albums as anyone else, every one of them worth owning."

It seems odd, but there are no recordings featuring the two friends, Ivery and Garland. There were dates--once, a man from a Japanese label set up a tape recorder at the long-gone Recovery Room and captured a night's worth of stellar material--but no record ever appeared.

All that's left now are dozens of cheapie cassettes made nightly at the Recovery Room that are in the possession of Leaning House Records co-owner Mark Elliott, who got a box of tapes (featuring Ivery and Garland and many other local and national luminaries) from the club's former owners. Elliott insists the quality of the recordings is so poor--most were made with a single microphone--it would cost a fortune to clean them up. And even then, Elliott insists, it's likely the remastering job would reveal little beyond dust and static.

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