Album Reviews

Erroll Garner: Ready Take One (Legacy)

Erroll Garner
Ready Take One
Legacy Recordings

It’s quite alluring, the first take. It encapsulates the freshness of creation, tempered with the spark of inspiration. Moreover, it’s the allure of perfection. Can a great song be captured within the confines of that initial recording? The answer depends on the type of song being recorded. Vocal numbers are tricky; numerous factors are involved, ranging from lyrical style to the singer’s pitch and range. Instrumentals, however, aren’t held to the restraints of octave ranges or lyrical accentuation, giving the performer more leeway to experiment within the confines of the song.

Ready Take One is a new archival collection of first takes by the jazz pianist Erroll Garner. A talented composer, his most notable work was the gentle ballad “Misty,” which would become a well-established jazz and pop standard when Johnny Burke added lyrics to it for Johnny Mathis in 1959. Garner’s style was sophisticated and cool, but in the tracks found here, Garner’s initial take on a song would often be jaunty, quirky, and playful. One can sense that this is all done in the name of familiarizing himself with the material; his take on Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” begins as a boogie-woogie number, before settling into a nice—if not frenetic—groove that one doesn’t normally associate with the number.


Garner’s quick tempo interpretations of standards and his staccato piano style bring to mind another legendary musician, pianist Glenn Gould. Much like Gould, Garner’s speed wasn’t an attempt to impress simply by playing numbers at breakneck pace. Instead, it was to take the familiar and present it in a different light, building something new off of familiar numbers like “I Want To Be Happy,” “Sonny,” and “Satin Doll”—all numbers not known for having uptempo dance grooves, but Garner and his quartet make a convincing argument with their rearrangements. More than anything, Ready Take One shows just how fun a recording session with Erroll Garner could be. These takes are accompanied by the sound of Garner laughing, joking around with his band and his producer, Martha Glaser, and—much like Glenn Gould—the sound of Garner singing and humming along gruffly with the melody.

Jazz is often taken way too seriously, but Ready Take One gives the listener a glimpse into the fun side of one of the genre’s greatest pianists, as well as demonstrating the magic that can be found in the first take of a recording. Ready Take One is simply a delight to the ears.

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