William “Red” Garland (May 13th. 1923 – April 23rd. 1984) was an American Bop pianist. His Block Chord style a commonly borrowed maneuver in jazz piano today, was unique and differed from the methods of earlier block chord pioneers such as George Shearing and Milt Buckner. Garland’s block chords were constructed of three notes in the right hand and four notes in the left hand, with the right hand one octave above the left. The right hand played the melody in octaves with a perfect 5th placed in the middle of the octave (a 5th above the lowest note of the octave) even when it seemed to not suit the harmony. The 5th played in the middle of the octave becomes virtually inaudible when the chord in the left hand is played simultaneously, but the added 5th gives the voicings a particularly rich, distinctive and slightly out-of-tune character. It’s also worth noting that Garland’s four note left hand chord voicings occasionally left out the roots of the chords, which later became a chord style associated with pianist Bill Evans. Garland’s block chord method had a brighter quality, slightly more dissonance, and a fullness in the upper register compared to the mellower Shearing block chord sound. Garland’s solo lines also had a glassy, shimmering tone that matched the quality of his chords.
Garland became famous in 1955 when he joined the Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. Davis was a big fan of boxing and was impressed that Garland had boxed earlier in his life. Together the group recorded their famous Prestige albums, Workin, Steamin’, Cookin’, and Relaxin’. Garland’s style is prominent in these seminal recordings—evident in his distinctive chord voicings, his sophisticated accompaniment and his musical references to Ahmad Jamal’s style. One critic incorrectly labeled Garland as a cocktail pianist, a negative connotation that implies a style isn’t original. (Ahmad Jamal likewise was mislabeled a cocktail pianist at one point in his career, but misguided critics were later corrected by the jazz musicians who worked with him.)