Country musicians have a long history of teaming with jazz and blues artists to produce hip music. Western swing was an outgrowth of jazz. The same goes for rockabilly and the early Sun Records' sound. One of the finest examples of this twang-and-hang hybrid is Jazz Winds from a New Direction. Recorded in August 1960, the session was led by Hank Garland, one of Nashville's top country studio musicians at the time who recorded with Elvis Presley and other country-rock artists in the late 1950s. Jazz Winds teamed Garland with Gary Burton on vibes, Joe Benjamin on bass and Joe Morello on drums.
How did this configuration come to be? Garland's professional relationship with Burton actually began a month earlier, on July 4, 1960, after rowdy spectators at the Newport Jazz Festival caused the cancellation of the event's remaining performances. One of those planned events included Garland and other Nashville artists who enjoyed playing jazz.
So RCA executive Ben Rosner quickly rented a mansion, and on the afternoon of July 4th, the group billed as the Nashville All-Stars recorded seven tracks. The band featured Boots Randolph (alto sax), Gary Burton (vibes) [pictured], Floyd Cramer (piano), Hank Garland and Chet Atkins (guitars), Brenton Banks (violin), Bob Moore (bass) and Buddy Harman (drums).
"To me, the highlights of the album are the wonderful violin of Brenton Banks, the swinging guitar of Hank Garland, and the brilliant work of a 17-year old vibraphonist from Princeton, Indiana, Gary Burton, whom you will be sure to hear a lot in the future." [Pictured: George Wein]
A month later, on August 23d, Garland went into Columbia's Nashville studio with Burton, Joe Benjamin and Joe Morello and recorded Jazz Winds from a New Direction. Six days later the same group recorded Subtle Swing.
In early 1961, Garland picked up where he left off in the Nashville studios with Presley and other country and early rock artists. But in September, Garland was in a near-fatal auto accident near Nashville that left him in a coma for a week. When he emerged, he had suffered severe brain damage. His wife helped him learn to walk, talk and regain partial guitar-playing ability. But except for an occasional appearance, Garland remained retired, passing away in 2004. [Pictured: Presley and Hank Garland]
Jazz Winds and the other albums mentioned above show the early jazz promise of Hank Garland, just before his flame was tragically snuffed out. They also demonstrate George Wein's gift for dismissing naysayers and bringing together artists of different stripes to create beautiful music. Had Garland survived, there surely would have been all types of jazz-country fusion efforts throughout the 1960s and beyond. Garland could swing. Just ask Gary Burton.
JazzWax tracks: You can buy Hank Garland's jazz albums individually, but you'll pay a fortune since most are out of print. Or you can buy the two-CD set, Move: The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland, which includes selections from four of Garland's jazz-country recordings: After the Riot, Jazz Winds from a New Direction, Velvet Guitar and Subtle Swing. You'll find the CD and samples here.
A special thanks to Kurt Kolstad for introducing me to Garland and Jazz Winds.
JazzWax clip: Here's a clip of country guitarists Eddy Arnold and Hank Garland in the mid-1950s. Pay particular attention to Garland's jazz chords on the Hank Garland Stomp...