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Body & Soul

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Album Review

As was the case with Fats Waller, Erroll Garner's natural and advanced musical talent ingratiated him to jazz aficionados and experts alike. Garner took to the piano intuitively, never needing to take lessons because of his exceptional ear for music. Further breaking the mold, he transcended many of the jazz styles he came up with, including both swing and bebop. You hear the power of swing pianist Earl Hines in his fleet and robust approach, and, yes, he once played with Charlie Parker, but as heard on this Columbia collection from 1951-1952, Garner concocts a unique blend of the big band's svelte rhythms and bebop's heady swing. On the 20 gems found on Body and Soul, Garner employs a rush of dynamics, yet never compromises the inherent lyricism of the set's many standards. This balancing act cuts across a varied set of brisk swingers (Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose"), fine ballads ("I Can't Get Started"), and medium-tempo strollers ("It's the Talk of the Town"). In light of Garner's thoroughly engaging and self-contained work at the piano, even the fact that bassist John Simmons and drummer Shadow Wilson are practically inaudible becomes negligible. Garner bolsters many of these "little symphonies" with clever intros: a miniature recasting of the song's chord and harmonic structure, heard to sublime effect here on "Summertime" and "Body and Soul" (Garner would expand these preambles in the future, particularly on solo piano outings). And in response to criticisms of his playing being too ornate (extra tremolo on the ballads), it should be said that part of Garner's charm is his "old-fashioned" phrasing, part of the romantic and urbane touch he employs to keep said indulgences in check most of the time. Body and Soul is a fine collection of early Garner sides. Highly recommended.

Biography

Born: June 15, 1921 in Pittsburgh, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

One of the most distinctive of all pianists, Erroll Garner proved that it was possible to be a sophisticated player without knowing how to read music, that a creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music, and that it is possible to remain an enthusiastic player without changing one's style once it is formed. A brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else, on medium tempo pieces, Erroll Garner often stated the beat with his left hand like a rhythm guitar while his...
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