Red Garland became widely known for his distinctive block chord approach to melody playing, which has been widely imitated. In a block chord style, both hands sound on every note of the melody. There is no separation between right melody and left hand comping (accompanying). It is a device which produces a lot of sound out of the piano, so is ideally suited as the climax of a solo. Other pianists known for their block chords include George Shearing, whose block chords span an octave with the melody on top and bottom, and Bill Evans, who tended to drop the second note from the top of Shearing’s formation down one octave, spreading out the voicing into what became known as the “drop 2” technique.
Garland’s block chords are at the same time easier to execute and produce more sound out of the piano, although they lack the harmonic subtlety of Evans’ approach. In Garland’s style the right hand plays octaves and fifths over standard modern jazz voicings in the left, with both hands sounding on every note of the melody. Garland maintained an absolute paralellism of his perfect fifth above the bottom melody note, and the resulting dissonances (the fifth above the seventh is the #4) came to characterize his style.
His impeccable rhythm fueled perfect single-note melodic lines. In particular he was a master at extracting a special poignancy from minor blues. An economical player who chose his notes wisely, he was also an adept at spontaneous counterpoint, and he knew how to build.
“One often gets the impression that he is playing in perspective, furnishing foreground, middle and background as a painter might. A prominent phrase in the piano’s middle register, answered by a distant tinkling , and suddenly everything is overwhelmed by a series of hammered ascending chords. A perfect little exercise in counterpoint suddenly emerges from the bridge of a popular song, continues without seeming to heed the transition back to the main verse, and modestly resolved itself in its own sweet time. One could listen to this sort of playing all night, and perhaps one should.”