jimmy garrison

“He was a free spirit, full of folkloric counterpoint delivered with subtle undertow”

These are the words of The Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson describing Jimmy Garrison’s bass style. Read the full post here on his highly recommended blog (Iverson also does justice to another great bassist, Wilbur Ware). It’s hard to find a more insightful analysis of this shockingly underrated musician. Before I even knew what a double stop was (two notes played simultaneously on a stringed instrument), my early attraction to jazz has a lot to do with this guy’s sound in the John Coltrane Quartet. Garrison often had a solo spot to introduce or end songs, and the emotional power of these moments highlighted the meditative feel of the music. Listen to “Song of Praise” on The JC Coltrane Quartet plays (Impulse, 1965) for example. As Iverson writes eloquently, Garrison’s tone is all about the darkest low-down blues. This penetrating quality certainly blended in with Coltrane’s stratospheric explorations. Garrison had a powerful way of hitting the strings, adding even more fuel to the firestorm raging on top. Sometimes you just have to forgive YouTube’s appallingly low-fi videos (for a minute) and indulge your musical appetite. On the famous tune “Impressions”, Garrison provides a shining illustration of Iverson’s argument, here. Jimmy swings hard “behind” Coltrane, Tyner and Jones, interspersing his swinging walk with his patented rhythmic accentuation. I particularly like the rumbling stumble he inserts into the walk, a kind of “grainy” anticipation that reinforces the propulsion of the bass-drum groove machine. McCoy Tyner’s solo is pure class, seamlessly fading into Garrison’s meditation at the 4.30 mark. Listen to the flamenco-like strumming, savor the blues-drenched sweat. These fingers were made of iron.