Russell Malone Strikes While It’s Hot! An Exclusive Interview with Jazz Guitar Life – Part II

Photo by Adriana Mateo

“So now I’m up in my room, chilling after we left the sound check. I’m taking a nap. My phone rings and it’s Tal Farlow. Tal Farlow says, ‘MALONE, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just relaxing.’ He said, ‘I want you to come downstairs. I wanna introduce you to somebody.’ I said, ‘Who do you wanna introduce me to?’ He said, ‘Hank Garland.’ I said, ‘Are you…What??’ and I sat up in the bed and I said, ‘What did you just say?’ He said, ‘Hank Garland is down here in the lobby.’ I said, ‘I will be right there!’ I got so excited.”

Russell Malone

In Part II of our exclusive interview with Russell Malone, Dr. Wayne Goins invites Mr. Malone to share first-hand testimonies about his rare encounters with a few legendary jazz guitar icons. In this stunning revelation, Russell reels off an All-Star list of brotherhood bonding with none other than Hank Garland, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Tal Farlow. It sounds almost too good to be true…but here it is! For the first time ever, JGL offers you the “inside scoop” on the unique and exciting escapades of Russell Malone… enjoy the ride!

If you haven’t yet, check out Mr. Malone’s first part of the interview by clicking here!

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JGL: So let’s talk a little bit about that thing you just referred to a minute ago—the riches that you have actually had. I’m not sure if you remember this, but in a conversation we had—probably 30 years ago, I remember you telling me about a guitarist who was not on my radar screen. Last night I discovered—for the first time—a jazz guitar album by Hank Garland.

MALONE: [excitedly] Jazz Winds From A New Direction!

JGL: Yes, sir—that’s the one!! As far back in 1991 when you and I talked in my apartment, Hank was a guitarist I’d never heard of. But just recently, I was in a lively discussion with Wolf Marshall [jazz guitar lecturer at Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA] about our dear mutual friend Henry Johnson, who was teaching me some things about George Benson. Both Henry and Wolf mentioned this one particular album to me…

MALONE: I’m surprised we didn’t talk about that one a long time ago!

JGL: We did. We actually did. I remember me and you talking about that in Atlanta in 1991. Here’s the thing, though—there was no internet. There was no YouTube. There was no Google. There was no Facebook. There was none of that stuff. So I had never seen the actual album, and didn’t own it on vinyl or cassette, so I had no idea who you were talking about or what I was missing. It’s sooo much easier now for this generation…

MALONE: Yeah, thats right, ‘cuz even CDs hadn’t started until, like, maybe nine years before that, in ‘82 or ’83!  

JGL: So I called Wolf, we started talking about Henry and the conversation came up some kind of way—I think Henry was the one who told me that George Benson was influenced by Garland! I tracked the album down…as soon as I heard it, I remembered YOU talking to me about that album back in ‘91.

MALONE: It’s a great recording man. I knew Hank Garland…

JGL: YEAH! Somebody else told me that last night! They said that you used to hang out with him and had photos! Is that true??

MALONE: I played with Hank Garland…I got a videotape of me, Hank Garland and Tal Farlow and Bucky Pizzarelli playing together.

JGL: You’re kidding.

MALONE: I have a video recording of that. You wanna hear? You wanna hear how that story happened?

JGL: How that happened? Hell yeah!!

MALONE: Okay…are you ready?

JGL: Yes I am. Yes I am!

MALONE: Okay. Back in 1995, I left Kansas City—we had finished the taping for that movie, Kansas City. [for details of that story, see Part I of this interview] So after being there for like a week, I hopped on a plane the following day and flew to Columbia, South Carolina to play the Main Street Jazz Festival with Bucky Pizzarelli and Tal Farlow. Okay. So we go to the soundcheck, go over some tunes, and put the setlist together for the music that we were gonna play later on that night.

So now I’m up in my room, chilling after we left the sound check. I’m taking a nap. My phone rings and it’s Tal Farlow. Tal Farlow says, ‘MALONE, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just relaxing.’ He said, ‘I want you to come downstairs. I wanna introduce you to somebody.’ I said, ‘Who do you wanna introduce me to?’ He said, ‘Hank Garland.’ I said, ‘Are you…What??’ and I sat up in the bed and I said, ‘What did you just say?’ He said, ‘Hank Garland is down here in the lobby.’ I said, ‘I will be right there!’ I got so excited. I almost left outta my hotel room and went downstairs in the lobby with no clothes on!! ‘Cuz I was naked as a jay bird, man! [laughter all around.]

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: But I had to catch myself. I said, wait a minute. I can’t go down there like this! [more laughter] So I put on some clothes, go down to the lobby and sure enough, there was Hank. I’d never seen him before. The only thing that I’d seen of Hank was him on the cover of that ‘Jazz Winds’ album where he’s sitting in that little car surrounded by all those guitars—you’ve seen the cover, right?

JGL: Exactly!

MALONE: Okay. So I see him…and he had aged, but it was…it was definitely Hank Garland. I mean, he still had that…I don’t know if you know his story, but he was involved in really bad automobile accident.

JGL: Yeah. I think I heard about the story behind that from someone who lives in Nashville and knows the family. He’s one of my good guitar friends, a great 7-string guitarist named Chip Henderson who teaches at Middle Tennessee State University near the Nashville area.

MALONE: Yeah, there’s a story behind it. But anyway, he was kind looking kinda frail, but he still had that fire in his eyes, man…you know? He looked at you and it was as if he was looking through you.

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: He was a very intense man, very intense. And he had two guitars. He had one of the first [Gibson] Byrdlands—because you know, that guitar was named after him. The other guy—his last name was Byrd. And then Hank Garland’s last four letters of his last name is ‘Land.’ They combined the four letters of his last name with the last name of the other guy Byrd. I can’t remember his name, but this Byrdland guitar, he [Hank] had one of the first Byrdlands. I think the serial was like 002 or 001 or something like that.

JGL: Billy…it was Billy Byrd.

MALONE: There you go—you got it right! Yeah, so he had one of those guitars, one of those Byrdlands and he had an old Stromberg, you know, you know those Strombergs?

JGL: Yeah. The one with the curl on it.

MALONE: Yeah. He had an old Stromberg and that guitar sounded great and it felt good. It didn’t have a pickup on it, but that was one of the best feeling guitars that I’d ever played. So we all took pictures and we hugged. I, I was just…I just hugged Hank Garland so much. He must have said, ‘man, get this guy off me!’ [laughter.] But I was just so excited to see him, man.

Russell Malone meets Hank Garland!

So anyway I hugged Hank and just told him how much I loved him and how honored I was to meet him. And we took photographs. Then we went up to Tal’s room. And oh, I left this part out: Hank was there with his, sister-in-law. Her name is Amy—a sweet lady…and I think she might have come there with her nephew. I think his brother might have been with him too—Hank’s brother’s name was Billy. But anyway, we all went up to Tal Farlow’s room. We had a jam session—they took photographs, and he was there with a video camera too—this was before cell phones. He had a big video camera and he videotaped this 30-minute jam session.

JGL: Wow—really?

MALONE: Yep. He sure did, man. Oh, and there was one other guy there too named Terry Rosen. I think he was the one who brought us down there. Terry’s gone now [deceased]. But anyway, we sat down and we played for about a half hour…and Hank wasn’t the fiery guitar player that we heard on that record. There was something going on with his motor skills. He couldn’t really play. By then they had done electro shocks and stuff, from after that horrible accident…he lost a lot of mental capacity after that accident.

JGL: Oh, that’s so sad…

MALONE: Yeah, but dig this—every now and then the old Hank Garland would leap out!

JGL: Haha! Nice!!

MALONE: So we played this one tune called ‘Sandu,’ this Clifford Brown blues tune, and—for about maybe three bars—the old Hank Garland would leap out. And when it did leap out, it was like being struck by a bolt of lightning, man.

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: I got all this stuff on video, man. But…I promised his brother and his sister-in-law that I wouldn’t share it with anybody.

JGL: Wow…I definitely respect that…it’s honorable. But let me double back on something right quick: You never really gave me the inside scoop on the connection with you and Tal Farlow. How exactly did that meeting happen?

MALONE: Okay. I’m gonna tell you how that happened. I met Tal Farlow up in Toronto, Canada. He was playing at a place called the The Top of the Senator. He and this wonderful bass player named Pat Collins were doing a duo. And that’s how I met Tal. I was playing with Harry Connick at the time. So on my night off, I went to go see Tal because I had heard that he was playing there that night. I went to go see him, and I got to meet him because, you know, I’m…I’ve never been shy about going up to people and talking to them. I’ve never been shy about that.

JGL: Right!

MALONE: So I just walked up to him and told him how much I loved him and appreciated him. And he stood there and talked to me for almost his entire break, man.

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: And he told me something really interesting about Charlie Parker and Dizzy. I was asking him about his approach to playing, and how exactly did he stumble upon it? And he told me it was from listening to Charlie Parker and Dizzy. He said, as far as he was concerned, those two guys, he said—his exact words were—’As far as I’m concerned, Bird and Diz were carrying the ball! So that’s where I got my style from…those two guys were my main inspiration in the beginning.’

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: That’s what he told me.

JGL: Wow.

MALONE: So, that’s how I met Tal. He gave me his number and I would call him up just to, you know, just to talk to him. I didn’t pester him, but I’d call him. I was still living in Atlanta at the time. And then I finally moved up to New Jersey, and I found out that he was playing at a place up here called Trumpets. So I went to see him at Trumpets and I told him that I was living up here now. He said, ‘Oh fantastic! Well, stay in touch with me.’ And he would call me! Tal Farlow would call my house—just to say hello.

JGL: Really?

MALONE: He would call. And, in fact, he was the one who called me and put me on this gig with him and Bucky. it was called ‘The Great Guitars.’  This one I was being asked to join was another version of ‘The Great Guitars,’ which the original group was Herb Ellis, Charlie Byrd and Barney Kessel. So Tal called me for that gig. Cause Tal would do some gigs with them whenever Herb couldn’t make the gig.

Russell Malone – Tal Farlow – Bucky Pizzarelli

JGL: Ah, I see…

MALONE: Right. But he called me to be a part of this particular version of The Great Guitars with him and Bucky. And I think Brian Torff was playing bass on that gig that we did in Columbia, South Carolina—the one that I was telling you about. Jake Hannah was on drums if I’m not mistaken. Yeah. That’s, that’s how we became connected…that’s how I met Tal Farlow.

In Part III, Malone discusses Ray Brown, John Collins, Calvin Keys, Jack Peterson, Elaine Garrett, and much more—so stay tuned!

Please consider spreading the word about Russell and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂

Author Info: Dr. Wayne Everett Goins, University Distinguished Professor of Music (2015), is the Director of Jazz Studies in the School of Music, Theater, & Dance at Kansas State University, where he conducts big bands and teaches combos, private guitar lessons, jazz theory and jazz improvisation courses. He is also a prolific writer and published author many times over. For more detialed information please click here.

2 Comments

    • Thanks for dropping by Joan and thanks for the kind words directed towards Mr. Malone. He is indeed a wonderful player of the highest order 🙂

      Thanks again and take care.

      All the best.

      Lyle – Jazz Guitar Life

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