Chances are you have seen this somewhat iconic album before, either at your parent's or grandparents house or at a flea market or thrift shop or record store bargain bin. It's cover features graphic design so counter-intuitive to what turns out to be one of the biggest selling jazz albums in history; it looks more like a teen pop record on the outside, not a smokin' jazz trio.
Well, in the first place, after years of seeing Mr. Garner's albums out in the wilds of record collecting land, I picked up several of his recordings along the way out of curiosity and most left me flat. Not sure if it was bad production choices or simple lack of control over his career, but most of the music I heard by him sounded like the sort of sappy, lazy lounge piano I'd expect to hear on a late period Ferrante & Teicher album. Thus I never even considered checking out the Concert by the Sea because, well, it looked like the epitome of that sort of saccharine faux-jazz that infiltrated living rooms by the late '50s while the real jazz stars were starving and being forced to move to Europe to sustain a career....
Boy was I wrong! You really can't judge a book -- or album, or an artist -- by its cover!
Errol Garner's Concert by the Sea is a heartfelt gem of top notch, swinging jazz piano music that -- if one didn't know better -- might be mistaken for an Oscar Peterson performance. The guy was that good! I wouldn't be surprised if he was an influence on Peterson. In fact, there are a lot of moments on here that remind me of Peterson's run at The London House in Chicago (circa 1964), sizzling performances spread across several albums on Verve Records and eventually compiled in a wonderful deluxe set.
Now, if I was alone in this perception that Concert by the Sea as mainstream fluff, I'd feel exceptionally dumb. However, clearly, others felt this way, which eventually compelled Columbia records to reissue the album in 1970 -- in electronically re-channeled (faux) stereo -- with revised "hipper" cover art. On the original 1956-issued album, the cover featured a happy-go-lucky Blonde waving her arms walking (apparently) on the rocks of scenic Carmel by the Sea. On the 1970 reissue, new photography depicted a cooler, hippie-styled (but still White/Blonde) woman with then in vogue long hair and bell bottoms. This was supported by an ad campaign (reproduced in the booklet for the new reissue) bearing the headline "There was a time when you were probably too hip to bother with Erroll Garner's Concert By The Sea."
For this new 2015 edition, the cover has once again been recreated and more appropriately updated, this time with a beautiful and jubilant African-American woman, a step in the right direction since Mr. Garner himself was Black. It is a significant change worth noting; thank goodness the times they have been a changin'! In a perfect world it really should have been Mr. Garner down there on the rocks in Carmel waving his hands in the air!
Today, Concert by the Sea has been given a perhaps final facelift for the ages thanks to Jamie Howarth and his Plangent Proceesses audio restoration technologies. We here at Audiophilereview have written about Mr. Howarth's technology quite a bit previously so if you want to learn more about it, do click this link for a more in-depth look at the Plangent process, written by our editor Steven Stone.
In short, Mr. Howarth's proven proprietary technology helps correct many recording errors inherent in the tape recording process, from wow and flutter to stretched magnetic tape. Recordings out now by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and The Grateful Dead have demonstrated the remarkable reparative qualities that Plangent Processes can deliver in the form of steadier playback, more accurate reproduction of instruments, reduced noise, improved frequency response and even an enhanced sense of room and stage dynamics.
To further appreciate how good this recording now sounds, its important to briefly set the way-back machine to September 19th, 1955, when this concert was first recorded. Amazingly, the concert was not intended to have been recorded or released! But, as fate would have it, a representative from the Armed Forces Radio Service was discovered recording the show backstage. After the stellar performance, Mr. Garner's management heard the tapes and ultimately convinced Columbia Records (a label now owned by Sony) to release the concert as a single, heavily condensed LP. History was made as one of the best selling jazz albums of all time was born, going on to sell some 225,000 copies in its first year alone -- pulling in about $1 million in sales by 1958. Talk about a cash cow!