The Unknown Jazz Genius: a new CD box set highlights the native of Toledo


During a brief shining moment in the mid-1940s, Arv Garrison, originally from Toledo, was considered one of the best jazz guitarists in the world. A resident of Toledo for most of his life, Garrison was a musician whose skillful six-string playing was the envy of many in the music community. He has recorded with legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and has performed and recorded regularly with his wife, Vivien Garry.

“He was truly an amazing talent,” said music historian James Harrod. “Largely self-taught, (Garrison) admired Django Reinhardt and spent his time practicing his guitar and listening to Django. And the person who really helped launch his career was his wife, Vivien Garry. She’s the one who took charge of their careers and signed all the contracts and made the arrangements, etc. And Arv flourished in these conditions.

One of Garrison’s hallmarks was his versatility, whatever the style.He was part of the group he played with, he was able to elevate himself and bend his skills to fit the moment. At a pure talent level, Harrod ranks Harrison in a class with famous jazz guitarists like Irving Ashby and Oscar Moore.

Today, however, the name Arv Garrison is almost forgotten. His career as a full-time musician was tragically short.

Lost and found

“The shame is he suffered from epilepsy, and it intensified in the latter part of his career,” Harrod said. “Today, modern medicine can help us deal with this condition. But at the time, in the 1940s, it was the end of his career when epileptic seizures became more frequent. It was a very short career – from 1945 to 1948. Only three years that he really blossomed and became one of the best.

Garrison returned to Toledo after his sojourn in the jazz world. He tried to perform at local concerts, but his illness had progressed too far. Garrison died in a swimming accident in 1960 at the age of 37. His jazz career was so well over by then that the title of his obituary did not even mention it.

But Garrison’s musical legacy begins to be rediscovered, thanks in large part to Harrod. A former professional bookseller, Harrod has been a jazz fan since high school, specializing primarily in West Coast jazz. Last year, Harrod listened to a celebration by legendary jazz composer and saxophonist Charlie Parker. One of the songs featured Garrison, a name that even Harrod, an expert in almost all jazz, was only vaguely familiar.

“This led me to Vivien Garry and a book she published, a biography, in the early ’90s, recounting her life and playing with Arv,” Harrod said.

New collection

Harrod determined that Garrison’s remarkable work needed to be collected, preserved, and made more widely available. He started looking for as many tapes as he could. He found sessions Garrison and Garry did in New York in the mid-1940s. Recordings made for the Armed Forces Radio Network. A performance for a show led by famous jazz host Art Ford.

“I contacted a record producer in Barcelona, ​​Fresh Sound Records, a man named Jordi Pujol, who for years defended forgotten music, the music of the west coast. And Jordi said, ‘Yeah, I think you have a good project there, let’s go!’ “

The end result is a 3 CD box set titled “The Unknown Arv Garrison: Wizard of the Six String”. Featuring a plethora of tracks that haven’t been heard since its initial release nearly 80 years ago, the set includes cover notes by band leader Nick Rossi. The job is a labor of love for Harrod, and he notes that it’s not just Garrison’s legacy that will interest Toledo listeners.

“The final sessions on the CD set feature another highly revered Toledo musician, El Meyers. He was a pianist who played with the band in New York, and towards the end of Arv’s career they did some things for a label called Metro that were never available on CD. So the set includes a lot of music which, until now, was only available on 78, or not at all. “

To purchase a copy of “The Unknown Arv Garrison,” visit

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