Back in March 1961, saxophonist Oliver Nelson [pictured above] teamed with pianist Red Garland for the first time. Five tracks were recorded with Richard Williams on trumpet, Peck Morrison on bass and Charlie Persip on drums. The session would be the only time Nelson and Garland recorded together—an odd and unfortunate circumstance.
What's even stranger is that the five tracks were never issued on a single album. Instead, two of the recordings came out years later on Soul Burnin', which gathered orphaned Garland tracks recorded in 1960 and '61, while the other three songs didn't surface until Prestige released Rediscovered Masters Vol. 2 in the '70s.
The songs recorded by this unusual quintet offer a smart spread: On Green Dolphin Street, If You Could See Me Now, Soft Winds, Avalon and Skinny's Blues. The first two wound up on Soul Burnin' while the others became part of the vault dive for Rediscovered Masters Vol. 2.
Given the spirited quality of Garland's [pictured above] swinging attack and Nelson's Coltrane-like heat on alto and tenor sax, one can only speculate why a proper "Red Meets Oliver" album was never issued. The cumulative length of the tracks totals just over 37 minutes—hardly in excess of the standard jazz album at the time. Perhaps they planned to return to the studio to record additional tracks or takes but couldn't fulfill the obligation due to any number of reasons.
On paper, reuniting wouldn't seem to have been a problem. Both Nelson and Garland [pictured above] had extended gaps between their discographies—with Nelson not recording until Duke Ellington's Paris Blues in May and Garland's hiatus lasting until Bright and Breezy in July. But both musicians likely had tour obligations, or one or more of the date's sidemen may not have been available for additional session work.
If the problem was audio issues, certainly tape edits could have resolved them. By 1961, tape editing with a razor blade, steady hand and careful ear was common practice in studios. Or perhaps the fact that the horns solo for brief spells while the trio dominates on either end and in the middle of songs was viewed as uneven in review.
Or maybe too much Garland was already in the can and slated for release. Or, given that the location of the date says "New York" instead of "Englewood Cliffs, N.J.," perhaps the city engineer wasn't as skilled as Rudy Van Gelder to make the cuts or wasn't trusted to do so expertly. Rudy did tell me, however, that most of the Prestige dates that say "New York" were actually cut at his place. [Pictured above: Oliver Nelson]
I reached out to fellow blogger, author and jazz gentleman Doug Ramsey, who wrote the original liner notes to Rediscovered Masters. Doug also said he was puzzled by the outcome of the 1961 session but sent along part of his notes...
"The March 1961 session was Red's only encounter with the late Oliver Nelson. He had heard Nelson with Louis Jordan's big band in 1950 but had never played with him. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nelson didn't often take part in jam sessions and didn't hang out at musicians' bars like Jim and Andy's. Garland recalls being impressed with Nelson's businesslike approach to the date and with his playing. [Photo of Red Garland above at San Francisco's Keystone Kornerin the late '70s by Brian McMillen]
'He was a perfect gentleman and a great musician, a by-the-book musician, very correct, and I'm sorry I didn't get to know him better. The other horn was 'Notes,' Richard Williams, a beauty. He has control of his instrument, good ideas, a big fat sound. A lot of guys never get the credit that's due them, and 'Notes' is one of the unfortunate ones.'"
Long-time Prestige producer and radio host Bob Porter weighed in...
"Red signed with Jazzland following the March 1961 session. He only recorded for Prestige
on one other occasion—October 9, 1962. As for Oliver, he was working a quintet with Joe Newman about that time but he was moving away from being a soloist to being a writer.
"His first big band LP (Afro-American Sketches) began in September 1961, and he was also writing strings for Etta Jones in July 1961.
"The Soul Burnin' album wasn’t issued until 1963. There was a ton of Red Garland in the can, as you note. By the time I arrived at Prestige in 1968 ,there was still a ton left. On my watch, Red Garland Revisited, The P.C. Blues and It’s A Blue World were issued. More came out during the Fantasy era.
"Red was recorded with Paul Chambers and Art Taylor in a trio and with Ray Barretto in a quartet (the best-selling sound), as a soloist and with horns. If anything, he was recorded too often, but Bob Weinstock & Esmond Edwards both dug him."
It's a shame Red Garland and Oliver Nelson didn't record together again. What is evident is the sumptuous quality of the music preserved here and how provocative the two sounded squaring off.
JazzWax clip: To give you a taste, here's If You Could See Me Now with Oliver Nelson on alto sax and Richard Williams on trumpet, from March 1961...