Re-issue of Errol Garner’s “The Concert by the Sea” debuts at #1 on Billboard Jazz Chart

by Matt Micucci

Concert by the Sea is a live album by pianist Erroll Garner, which was originally released on Columbia Records in 1956. By 1958, the album had sold well over a million dollars worth of retail copies, and qualified for gold record status by the definition of that time, despite the feat not being originally aknowledged by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The album was recorded on Sept. 9, 1955 in the gothic-revivalist styled assembly hall of Sunset School in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. The revered pianist was accompanied by the other two members of his trio, Eddie Calhoun on bass and Denzil Best on drums.

At the time, Garner was at a peak of his career. He was praised for his unique style of playing, which mixed impressionism with swing. This originality in style owed a lot to the fact that he was nothing short of a phenomenon. Garner was in fact self-taught and ambidextrous – a natural, whose improvisations would be greeted by enthusiastic applause mid-performance from the large audiences that he attracted.

Upon its release, the album was celebrated by critics, called by many as Garner’s best work to date. Critic Scott Yanow, years later, would say that it was the one that made the artist “immortal”. Strange to think, hence, that the recording originated from a low key affair, captured by a recording engineer for the Armed Forces Radio Network, a jazz fan and scholar named Will Thornbury, strictly for his own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of his fellow servicemen. Columbia Records originally had no plans to record the event.

Concert by the Sea‘s legacy lives on, and now its legacy has been strengthened by a new feat. The 60-year-old album was re-released jointly by Sony Legacy and Octave Music Publishing Corporation in a newly expanded version on Sept. 18, and debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Jazz chart as well as #93 on the Top 200 Chart.

This newly released version, named The Complete Concert by the Sea, is a triple CD set that contains twice as much material as the originally released one. It includes the unedited full concert on the first two discs, with songs that were originally left out, while the third dist features a 14-minute post-concert interview with the pianist himself.

The release of The Complete Concert by the Sea is part of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, a major new archival and musical celebration of Garner, and looks to be the first of a great number of new Garner music to come, which was donated by the estate of his longtime manager Martha Glaser to the University of Pittsburgh Library System.

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