April 7th marked the anniversary of the passing of Jimmy Garrison, the formidable bassist and long-time member of John Coltrane’s famous quartet from 1961 through to Coltrane’s death in July of 1967.
Garrison grew up in Philadelphia and honed his craft during an era in Philadelphia that also produced fellow bassist Reggie Workman, trumpeter Lee Morgan and his cohort with the classic Coltrane quintet, pianist McCoy Tyner.
Garrison began working professionally in his early twenties having either performed or recorded with Lee Konitz, Kenny Dorham, Jackie McLean, Curtis Fuller and Benny Golson among others in the late 1950s.
Drummer Elvin Jones remembered the formation of one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time well when he spoke with Downbeat magazine in December 1977. “Steve Davis was playing bass then and McCoy was playing piano. Then John switched bass players and got Reggie Workman. He was the bass player for a year or so, but John still wasn’t satisfied. The rhythm section wasn’t what he wanted it to be. We were playing a concert in Philadelphia, and a couple of bass players had been asked to audition with the band—Jimmy was one of them. Coltrane asked me which one I liked, so immediately I said Jimmy Garrison—’Jimmy, the little one.’ ”
Garrison was once quoted as saying that he could never really play his best without Elvin.
Although Garrison formally joined Coltrane’s group in 1962, his first recording with Coltrane was “Chasin’ the Trane” on Live at the Village Vanguard recorded in late 1961. Thus began Garrison’s long association with Coltrane, the climax of course being Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme recorded in December 1964.
Garrison also had a long association with Ornette Coleman having first recorded with him in 1961 on Ornette On Tenor. After Coltrane’s passing in 1967, Garrison rejoined Coleman’s group alongside Elvin Jones, where after having played with Coltrane for so many years, his bass style brought out a more passionate sound in Coleman’s playing. Of note are Coleman’s Love Call and New York is Now both recorded during the same sessions in 1968 and released on Blue Note Records.
Jimmy Garrison passed away from lung cancer much too soon on April 7, 1976. He was 42 years old.