Red Garland Block Chords

Red Garland Block Chords
Block chord voicings

Red Garland’s block chords are arguably his most famous stylistic contribution to jazz piano. While overuse tends to make you sound a bit on the loungy side of things and can make you sound like a Garland wannabe (for better or worse), judicious use of this trick can come in handy in a number of band configurations. It obviously sounds great on the Workin/Cookin/Steamin/Relaxin session where Garland’s understated playing provides contrast to the Horn solos and offers space to let the Philly Joe and Paul Chambers push. On a practical level, this particular block chord style is relatively easy to implement and can get you a big sound without banging when you are on a lousy upright and feel like you are fading into the curtains. Here is the recipe:

  1. Right Hand: Octaves with ‘locked 5ths’ above bottom note. (Maintain a perfect fith from the bottom note of the octave at all times)
  2. Left Hand: Rootless voicings (see this entry) sounding on every note that the right hand plays.

This produces some weird dissonances at times (see the fifth above the third on the C7 in the simple example) but don’t let that stop you. It is part of the style.


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  • yuichi

    Nicely written. Glad to know Red’s voicing here. Regarding his timing, do you think he contributed something?

    I do not see much for it and been thinking that Garland could have been a man of sharp sense to music rather than the student of hard learning.

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  • jp

    Red was definitely an intuitive pianist. He took up the instrument relatively late and was largely self-taught. No question he worked hard to develop his style.

  • Cesar

    I’m a big fan of Garland’s voicings. Also, one thing that he does (and it’s great) is his “peck” playing, meaning hits off beats 2 and 4, anticipating double bassist’s quarter notes. Prof. Dr. Ed Byrne has got very good exercises for all that.

  • jp

    I just added an Ed Byrne to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks for the tip.

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