On the night of October 2, 1959 William "Red" Garland, a former prizefighter turned winsome jazz pianist, delivered a knockout performance. Garland (1923-1984), best known for his work from 1955 to 1958 with Miles Davis's first great quintet, had since 1956 also made a series of well-received LPs for Prestige that balanced standards and jazz tunes, ballads and bounce tempos and—always—the blues. Known for his crystalline keyboard touch, punchy left hand, fleet single-note lines and, most of all, chiming block chords, Garland was among the most popular and influential piano stylists of his day.
On this autumnal evening at a Harlem taproom, now long shuttered, he was the perfect host, captivating his guests with a party mix of Swing Era favorites ("Marie," "One O'Clock Jump,"), breezy bebop ("Cherokee," "Blues in the Closet"), slow rockers ("Lil' Darlin’," "Like Someone in Love"), and fervent balladry ("Mr. Wonderful," "We Kiss in a Shadow"). And there were forays into Ellingtonia ("Perdido," "Just Squeeze Me," "Satin Doll"), some of Red's most masterful blues ("M-Squad Theme," "Prelude Blues"), and numbers with which he'd become synonymous, thanks to his association with Miles ("Bye Bye Blackbird").
Backed by two friends from Philadelphia, the rock-steady bassist Jimmy Rowser and the drummer Charles "Specs" Wright, who played the brushes (and sticks) as adroitly as Minnesota Fats handled his pool cue, Garland was at the very top of his game. Luckily for us, Rudy Van Gelder, jazz's foremost engineer, was on the premises with his recording equipment, capturing every golden note.