Over the long course of over 30 years, pianist/vocalist/leader Larry Garland has presided over The Press Room’s Tuesday night tradition known as the Larry Garland Jazz Jam. These days, Larry’s bandmates in Tuesday night’s host band are guitarist Woody Allen, bassist Jim Lyden, and drummer Gary Gemmiti, all of whom have been sharing the bandstand with Larry for a very long time and for a very good reason: It's a great gig. And the primary reason for that is Larry himself.
Earlier, of course, various sidemen have passed through the band, and others have passed on. But Larry has remained the constant: inspiring and encouraging generations of young jazz musicians as well as older “wannabes,” at the same time delighting Press Room listeners with his inventive, sometimes provocative piano playing and his easy-going vocals.
Larry is the son of a Baptist minister and a mother who played piano at home. Growing up in Connecticut, he got interested in music and taught himself the fundamentals by looking over his mother’s shoulder and trusting his good ears.
When he was old enough, he went off to join the Army in the ’50s and, having taught himself enough musical skills by that time, he ended up playing in the Army Band. While stationed in Bethesda, Maryland, he started hanging out with the musicians at the Bethesda School of Music and jamming with them. It was in that context that Larry, still in his twenties, got to play with musicians like Chet Baker and Zoot Sims. Pretty heady stuff for the young musician.
When he got out of the Army, Larry lived with his family in Lynn, Massachusetts, and played with a lot of the North Shore and Boston area musicians like Herb Pomeroy and Charlie Mariano, players who appreciated Larry's great ear and his natural creativity.
Here on the Seacoast, it's our good fortune that Larry moved to Portsmouth not long after Jay Smith opened The Press Room and decided that jazz would have a home in his new club. As part of that policy, the Tuesday night jazz jam was established early on and Larry has been in residence there ever since.
Being self-taught, he never learned to read music. No matter, though, because he has a vast repertoire of music in his memory bank. And on any Tuesday night at The Press Room, you may hear Larry play the music of Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, along with pop tunes from ’50s like “Mule Train,” all in the same set.
And it all sounds great.