William (Red) Garland, jazz pianist, was born in Dallas on May 13, 1923. He began his musical training on the clarinet as a child and played the alto saxophone at Booker T. Washington High School, though he never graduated. He quit to join the United States Army during World War II and took impromptu piano lessons from other servicemen at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. After leaving the army in 1944 he joined a band led by Buster Smith, and a year later was touring the southwestern and eastern United States with Oran (Hot Lips) Page. After the tour ended in 1946 in New York, Red Garland began playing in nightclubs.
He was part of one of the most exciting periods of jazz evolution. Much of the 1950s jazz now regarded as classic was built upon Garland's characteristic block chords. Until 1956 he continued playing in New York and Philadelphia with such famous musicians as Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine, Coleman Hawkins, and Fats Navarro. Garland achieved his greatest fame, however, as a member of Miles Davis's Quintet from 1955 to 1958 and was sideman on several of Davis's recordings, including "Workin' and Steamin'," "Round About Midnight," and "Milestones." The music that the group produced in the mid-1950s began a new era of jazz.
After leaving Miles Davis's Quintet, Garland started his own trio, which performed for several years. He cut three albums as leader in 1957—All Mornin' Long, Soul Junction, and High Pressure. He returned to Dallas in 1965 because of his mother's illness and made few public appearances until the late 1970s, when he performed several times in New York and recorded a new album, Red Alert (1977). His last performance was at Lush Life in Greenwich Village in New York City in June 1983. Garland and his wife, Lillie (Newsom), had two children. He died in his south Dallas home on April 23, 1984, and was buried in Lincoln Memorial Park in Dallas.