Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1923 - January 2, 1977) (some sources say 1921) was an American jazz pianist and composer known for his swing playing and ballads. His best-known composition, the ballad "Misty", has become a jazz standard. Scott Yanow of Allmusic calls him "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" and a "brilliant virtuoso".
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6363 Hollywood Blvd.
Life and career
Born with his twin brother Ernest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to an African-American family on June 15, 1923, or (some sources say) 1921, Erroll began playing piano at the age of three. His elder siblings were taught piano by Miss Bowman. From an early age Erroll would sit down and play anything she had demonstrated, just like Miss Bowman, his eldest sister Martha said. He attended George Westinghouse High School, as did fellow pianists Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. Garner was self-taught and remained an "ear player" all his life – he never learned to read music. At the age of seven, he began appearing on the radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids. By the age of 11, he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats. At 14 in 1937, he joined local saxophonist Leroy Brown.
He played locally in the shadow of his older pianist brother Linton Garner and moved to New York City in 1944. He briefly worked with the bassist Slam Stewart, and though not a bebop musician per se, in 1947 played with Charlie Parker on the "Cool Blues" session. Although his admission to the Pittsburgh music union was initially refused because of his inability to read music, they eventually relented in 1956 and made him an honorary member. Garner is credited with having a superb memory of music. After attending a concert by the Russian classical pianist Emil Gilels, Garner returned to his apartment and was able to play a large portion of the performed music by recall.
Short in stature (5 ft 2 in), Garner performed sitting on multiple telephone directories. He was also known for his vocalizations while playing, which can be heard on many of his recordings. He helped to bridge the gap for jazz musicians between nightclubs and the concert hall.
Garner made many tours both at home and abroad, and produced a large volume of recorded work. He was, reportedly, The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson's favorite jazz musician, appearing on Carson's show many times over the years.
Erroll Garner died from cardiac arrest related to emphysema on January 2, 1977. He is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.
In 2016, Downtown Music Publishing entered an exclusive worldwide administration agreement with Octave Music Publishing Corp. The deal covers all of Garner’s works including “Misty”, as well as Garner’s extensive archive of master recordings, many of which are currently unreleased.
Called "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" by jazz writer Scott Yanow, Garner showed that a "creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music" or changing his personal style. He is referred to as a "brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else", using an "orchestral approach straight from the swing era but ... open to the innovations of bop." His distinctive style could swing like no other, but some of his best recordings are ballads, such as his best-known composition, "Misty". "Misty" rapidly became a jazz standard – and was featured in Clint Eastwood's film Play Misty for Me (1971).
Garner may have been inspired by the example of Earl Hines, a fellow Pittsburgh resident but 18 years his senior, and there were resemblances in their elastic approach to timing and the use of the right-hand octaves. Garner's early recordings also display the influence of the stride piano style of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Garner developed a signature style that involved his right hand playing behind the beat while his left strummed a steady rhythm and punctuation, thus creating insouciance and tension in the music. The independence of his hands also was evidenced by his masterful use of three-against-four figures and more complicated cross rhythms between the hands. Garner also would improvise whimsical introductions to pieces that left listeners in suspense as to what tune would be. His melodic improvisations generally stayed close to the melodic theme while employing novel chord voicings.
Garner's first recordings were made in late 1944 at the apartment of Timme Rosenkrantz; these were subsequently issued as the five-volume Overture to Dawn series on Blue Note Records. His recording career advanced in the late 1940s when several sides such as "Fine and Dandy", "Skylark" and "Summertime" were cut. His 1955 live album Concert by the Sea was a best-selling jazz album in its day and features Eddie Calhoun on bass and Denzil Best on drums. This recording of a performance at the Sunset Center, a former school in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, was made using relatively primitive sound equipment, but for George Avakian the decision to release the recording was easy.
One World Concert was recorded at the 1962 Seattle World Fair (and in 1959 stretching out in the studios) and features Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums. Other works include 1951's Long Ago and Far Away, 1953's Erroll Garner at the Piano with Wyatt Ruther and Fats Heard, 1957's The Most Happy Piano, 1970's Feeling Is Believing and 1974's Magician, which see Garner perform a number of classic standards. Often the trio was expanded to add Latin percussion, usually a conga.
In 1964, Garner appeared in the UK on the music series Jazz 625 broadcast on the BBC's new second channel. The programme was hosted by Steve Race, who introduced Garner's trio with Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums.
Because Garner could not write down his musical ideas, he used to record them on tape, to be later transcribed by others.
The Erroll Garner Club was founded in 1982 in Aberlady, Scotland. On September 26, 1992 Garnerphiles from England, Scotland, Germany and the USA met in London for a unique and historic get-together. The guests of honour were Eddie Calhoun (bassist) and Kelly Martin (drummer), Erroll's rhythm section from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. On June 15, 1996 many of the UK's keenest Garnerphiles converged in Cheltenham for an afternoon of food, music and fun on what would have been Erroll's 75th birthday. That evening they were saddened to hear of the death of another jazz legend: Ella Fitzgerald.
Archive and newly discovered material
In 2012 a film on Garner was released by Atticus Brady called No One Can Hear You Read, which Garner used to say when asked why he had never learned to read music. Footage of the piano prodigy playing and speaking was intercut with interviews: with admirers (including Woody Allen, Steve Allen and his fellow musicians Ahmad Jamal, also from Pittsburgh and Ernest McCarty, his bassist for many years); with family members, including his big sister Ruth Garner Moore and daughter Kim Garner; with George Avakian, the producer of Concert By the Sea; and with Jim Doran his biographer. The film attempts to readdress Erroll Garner's fall from prominence after his death, reminding viewers how popular he was in his day, how original and why he is in many quarters considered a legend, one of the true greats of jazz.
On June 15, 2015, the estate of Martha Glaser, Garner's longtime manager, announced the formation of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, a major new archival and musical celebration of Garner. The project includes the donation of the Erroll Garner Archive—a huge trove of newly discovered historical material from Garner's life—to the University of Pittsburgh.
On September 18, 2015, Concert by the Sea was re-released by Sony Legacy in an expanded, three-CD edition that adds 11 previously unreleased tracks.
On September 30, 2016, 'Ready Take One' was released on Sony Legacy/Octave featuring 14 previously unreleased tracks
- Serenade To Laura (1945) Savoy MG-12003
- Giants of the Piano (back to back with Art Tatum) (1947 Hollywood recordings with Red Callender and Hal West), Vogue LP LAE 12209
- Early in Paris (1948), Blue Music Group
- Penthouse Serenade (1949)
- Erroll Garner (August 1949), Los Angeles recordings with John Simmons, Alvin Stoller (2 vols Joker LP BM 3718-3719)
- Erroll Garner (no date, c. 1951), with Wyatt Ruther and Fats Heard Philips B 07015 L
- Erroll Garner plays for dancing (no date, c. 1951), Philips B 07622 R
- Solo flight (no date, c. 1951), Philips B 07602 R
- Erroll Garner (AKA Erroll Garner at the Piano) (1951–3 material), with Wyatt Ruther and Fats Heard, Columbia CL535, CBS reissue LP 62311
- Mambo Moves Garner (1954), Mercury MG20055
- Plays Misty (1954), Mercury SR60662
- Gems (1954), Columbia CL583
- Music for Tired Lovers, with Woody Herman singing (!) (1954), Columbia CL651
- Concert by the Sea (1955), Columbia CL883
- Contrasts (EmArcy, 1955)
- Garnering (EmArcy, 1955)
- Solitaire (1955)
- Afternoon of an Elf (1955), Mercury MG20090
- The One and Only Erroll Garner (1956)
- The Most Happy Piano (1956), Columbia CL939 (Italian CBS reissue, Il magico pianoforte di Erroll Garner, CBS Serie Rubino, 52065, 1967)
- He's Here! He's Gone! He's Garner! (1956)
- Gone Garner Gonest (1956)
- The Greatest Garner (1956), Atlantic 1227
- Other Voices, with orchestra (1957), Columbia CL1014
- Soliloquy (1957), Columbia CL1060
- Erroll Garner - Encores in Hi Fi (1958), Columbia CL 1141
- Paris Impressions Vol.#1 (1958), Columbia CL 1212
- Paris Impressions (1958), Columbia #1216, double album
- Erroll Garner One World Concert (1961), Reprise R9-6080 B
- Informal Piano Improvisations (1962), Baronet B-109
- A New Kind Of Love (1963), Erroll Garner with Full Orchestra, Conducted by Leith Stevens Phillips BL7595
- Erroll Garner/Maxwell Davis Trio: Mr. Erroll Garner and the Maxwell Davis Trio (1964), Crown Records CLP-5404
- Erroll Garner Plays Gershwin and Kern (1964), Mercury 826 224-2
- Serenade in Blue (1964), Clarion 610
- Erroll Garner Amsterdam Concert (concert November 7, 1964), Philips LP BL7717/632 204 BL
- Erroll Garner Plays (1965), Ember LP FA 2011
- Campus Concert (1966), MGM SE-4361
- That's my Kick (1967), MGM SE-4463
- Up in Erroll's Room - featuring the Brass Bed (1968), Vanguard NSLP 28123
- Feeling is Believing (1970), Mercury SR61308
- Gemini (1972), London XPS617
- Magician (1974), London APS640
- Play it Again Erroll (reissued 1974), Columbia CL33424 double album
- The Elf-The Savoy Sessions (1976), Savoy SJL 2207 double album
- Long Ago and Far Away (1987)
- Body and Soul (1991), Columbia CK47035
- The Complete Concert By the Sea (2015), Sony Music Cmg B00ZJ5QXDO
- Ready Take One (2016) Octave Music/Legacy Music 536331
- "Erroll Garner - Serenade In Blue (Vinyl, LP)". Discogs.com. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
- James M. Doran Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano, Scarecrow Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-8108-1745-6.