Arv Garrison: wizard of the six string / 1

    James A. Harrod surveys the career of the guitarist probably most often encountered through Charlie Parker but better recorded in his wife's trio. Part 1

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    Left to right: Teddy Kaye, Vivien Garry and Arv Garrison in New York, between 1946 and 1948. Photo by William P. Gottlieb

    If you mention Arv Garrison’s name to a guitarist you will most likely receive a nod and a knowing smile. Garrison is well known and revered among guitarists. This is not the case with the average jazz fan where you might get a shake of the head, or an “Arv who?” when you pose the question. Arv Garrison remains mostly unknown to the jazz public.

    Most of Garrison’s legacy on record was with the trio formed by his wife, Vivien Garry and pictured above. The trio came to the attention of Premier Radio Enterprises during an engagement at Perkins’ Playdium in St. Louis during the summer of 1944. Premier Records primary market was the local jukebox franchise where an order for 800 copies of a new release was guaranteed. Two singles featuring the Vivien Garry Trio were released that fall but did not advance the career of the trio.

    The trio gained national attention in 1945 when they had an eight-month engagement at Kelly’s Stable on 52nd Street in NYC. Leonard Feather profiled the trio in the June edition of Esquire magazine where he noted that the success of the King Cole Trio had given rise to “a flurry of piano-bass-guitar groups all over the country”. Feather continued: “The most remarkable unit I’ve heard lately along these lines is the Vivien Garry Trio.”

    That same month the trio recorded their first single for a major label, Guild Records. Leonard Feather singled out Arv’s “great guitar work” on Altitude in his Esquire magazine column. The Guild single also was recognised in Metronome‘s Records of the Year column in the January 1946 issue, where Arv’s performance was once again noted as “especially impressive”. The October 1945 review in Metronome noted: “The scintillating chording and single stringing of guitarist Arv Garrison stands out; Altitude‘s only serious limitation is that there isn’t enough of his fine playing.”

    When the trio migrated to the West Coast in 1945, a December session with George Handy for Lew Finston’s Sarco label produced three singles that benefited from national distribution. Reviews in Downbeat and Metronome singled out Garrison’s guitar work on Hopscotch, Arv’s feature based on the chords of How High The Moon. The Downbeat review noted that “the tune is particularly Arv’s, and he proves himself a completely first-rate single string artist”. The Sarco singles sold well, as evidenced by the multiple pressings with different release numbers.

    When Ross Russell tapped George Handy to produce the first session for his fledgling Dial Records label with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Handy included Arv Garrison in the line-up. The solitary track captured at that ill-fated session, Handy’s Diggin’ Diz, based on the chords of Lover, was passed over in Russell’s initial batch of singles released on Dial. When Gillespie recorded Handy’s tune at the second Dial session, without Handy or Garrison, it was retitled Diggin’ For Diz and released on Dial 1005.

    Ross Russell repackaged the Dial catalogue in the late 1940s, eliminating some of the earlier single releases and recoupling tracks for the new release series. Russell also recycled release numbers as was the case with Diggin’ Diz, which finally enjoyed release on Dial 1004. Russell’s initial release using Dial 1004 coupled Charlie Parker’s Moose The Mooche and Tempo Jazz Men’s When I Grow Too Old To Dream. However, the tune suffered further indignity as Russell used the label information from Diggin’ for Diz as released on Dial 1005. There is no mention on the label of members on the original line-up: Charlie Parker, George Handy or Arv Garrison. Russell also reprinted the Dial 1005 matrix number, D-1002. Astute jazz discographers like Jorgen Jepsen caught the error as the matrix in the wax, D-1000, clearly established the recording from the first Dial Records session.

    Arv Garrison experienced some name recognition on the Dial 28 March 1946 session with the Charlie Parker Septet where he was in the company of Lucky Thompson, Miles Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Vic McMillan, and Roy Porter; but allowing solo space for seven musicians on a three-minute record limits exposure for all. Garrison’s guitar is mainly heard as rhythm accompaniment with brief solo statements on tunes from that session.

    A little over two weeks later Arv participated in a landmark concert on the UCLA campus that included his six-string peers: Oscar Moore, Irving Ashby and Louis Gonzales. The concert was organised and presented by Fran Kelley, who had recently entered the male-dominated recording field with her two releases on Fran-Tone. The concert sponsored by UCLA’s Carver Club included a who’s who of jazz at the time: Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Benny Carter and Nat King Cole were the headline artists. Arv played with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Lucky Thompson on the first set and with Lucky Thompson and Joe Graves backing vocalist Kay Starr on the second set. This performance is lost, never recorded. Jack Lewerke’s review in Clef magazine noted “a couple of bright newcomers who brought much comment: Joe Graves on trumpet and Arvin Garrison on guitar”. He added: “Both will bear watching.”

    Arv’s third outing on Dial was as a member of the Howard McGhee Sextet for a session on 18 October 1946, where he joined Teddy Edwards, Dodo Marmarosa, Bob Kesterson, and Roy Porter at Universal Recorders. Once again the solo space for six musicians limited Arv’s exposure on the four tunes captured that morning. Reviews were lukewarm with no mention of Garrison.

    The following day Arv was in the recording studio again, this time as a member of the Earle Spencer orchestra at Radio Recorders. “Five Guitars in Flight” was Arv’s original composition that featured a harmonized guitar quintet with Barney Kessel, Gene Sargent, Tony Rizzi, and Arv’s close friend at the time, Irving Ashby. The recording released on Black & White 822 was well received in the press and gained photo coverage in Downbeat.

    Arv Garrison can also be heard on some vocal releases from the fall of 1946. The Vivien Garry Trio participated in a Signature Records session with Leo Watson and Vic Dickenson and a session for Exclusive Records with vocalist Rickey Jordan. Once again the solo space was limited, but the different settings backing a scat vocalist in Watson and a blues crooner in Jordan demonstrated Arv’s ability to adapt and swing.

    See part 2 of this article