In December of 1977, jazz pianist Red Garland did a five night stint at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco with drummer “Philly” Joe Jones (with whom he’d recorded such classic Miles Davis albums as Workin’, Cookin’, and ’Round About Midnight) and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. The significance being that this was the only time this threesome would ever play together. Thankfully, someone had the foresight to record those shows, highlights of which are now available as Swingin On The Korner: Live At Keystone Corner (CD, LP, digital).
Recorded December 6th through the 10th, and never officially released before, Swingin On The Korner find the trio working through a number of standards, including Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser,” Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” and Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale.” Though while the set list is a virtual jazz standards best of, the threesome oddly eschew anything Garland and Jones did when they played with Miles, anything those two did when they made Tenor Madness with Sonny Rollins, anything from when Garland recorded the albums Traneing In, Settin’ The Pace, and Soultrane with John Coltrane, and anything Garland did with his ’50s trio of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Arthur Taylor (which is arguably his most famous and most accomplished trio).
Not that it matters, since this trio manage to make every track sound fresh and original. While this was the only time they played together, Swingin On The Korner doesn’t sound like it was made by people who only just met. Instead, these three are so in sync that you’d think they’d been together for years.
Nowhere is that more apparent on Swingin On The Korner than when they spend nearly a dozen minutes seamlessly weaving their way through Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” (which opens this collection), or when they segue from Porter’s “It’s all Right By Me” into Kenny Dorham’s “The Theme” during a jam that last an effortless fifteen-and-a-half minutes.
As solid as the playing on Swingin On The Korner may be, it’s equally matched by the impressive sound quality of these recordings. Granted, this was recorded from the mixing board, not by some guy in the back row with a tape recorder, but it’s still impressive how warm, crisp, and clear it sounds for a nearly forty year old show.
Which isn’t to say I don’t have any issues with Swingin On The Korner (though the biggest is one that only a live album purist like myself would find problematic). Rather than present all five shows uncut and as they happened, this collection just has highlights from the five nights all mixed together. Disc two, for example, opens with “Straight No Chaser” from December 6th, then goes to “On A Clear Deal” from the 10th into “The Christmas Song” on the 8th. Even worse, every track fades the crowd noise in and out, destroying the illusion that this was a single show. None of which will be a big deal to most people, but given that there’s nothing to indicate that all five shows aren’t available, and seeing as how there’s been complete, multi-night live albums by Miles Davis (The Complete Plugged Nickel, Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3), Keith Jarrett (At The Blue Note: The Complete Recordings), and others over the years, it’s not silly to think these shows don’t deserve the same consideration.
I also wish Swingin On The Korner: Live At Keystone Corner had come in a plastic jewel case, not a cardboard container that already starting to show wear and tear. But then, I could say the same thing about pretty much every CD I’ve gotten recently.
Still, for what it is, Swingin On The Korner: Live At Keystone Corner is an impressive document of this trio’s short time together. Not only does it find these three playing well, but the sound quality of the recording perfectly captures every note and nuance. It’s just too bad that this is all we’ll ever hear from this ménage à trois.