A self-taught musician of prodigious technique, Garner was known for the rhythmic independence of his left and his right hands. The composer of the standard “Misty,” Garner was also known for his original and florid treatments of ballads.
Born: June 15, 1921; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Died: January 7, 1977; Los Angeles, California Also known as: Erroll Louis Garner (full name) Principal recordings albums: Overture to Dawn, Vol. 1, 1944; Overture to Dawn, Vol. 2, 1944; Overture to Dawn, Vol. 3, 1944; Overture to Dawn, Vol. 4, 1944; Overture to Dawn, Vol. 5, 1944; Passport to Fame, 1944; Yesterdays, 1944; Erroll Garner and Billy Taylor, 1945 (re-released as Separate Keyboards, 1945); Gone with Garner, 1945; Serenade to Laura, 1945; Cocktail Time, 1947; Erroll Garner at the Piano, 1949; Erroll Garner Playing Piano Solos, Vol. 1, 1949; Erroll Garner Playing Piano Solos, Vol. 2, 1949; Erroll Garner Playing Piano Solos, Vol. 3, 1949; Erroll Garner Playing Piano Solos, Vol. 4, 1949; Garnering, 1949; Rhapsody, 1949; Encores, 1950; Erroll Garner Plays Gershwin and Kern, 1950; Long Ago and Far Away, 1950; Piano Moods, 1950; Piano Solos, Vol. 1, 1950; Piano Solos, Vol. 2, 1950; Plays for Dancing, 1950; Body and Soul, 1951; Garnerland, 1951; Gone-Garner-Gonest, 1951; Piano Stylist, 1951; Piano Variations, 1951; The Provocative Erroll Garner, 1951; Solo Flight, 1952; Contrasts, 1954; Erroll!, 1954; Erroll Garner Plays Misty, 1954; Mambo Moves Garner, 1954; The Original Misty, 1954; Afternoon of an Elf, 1955; Concert by the Sea, 1955; Solitaire, 1955; Solo, 1955; Erroll Garner, 1956; He’s Here! He’s Gone! He’s Garner, 1956; The Most Happy Piano, 1956; Swinging Solos, 1956; Another Voice, 1957; Soliloquy, 1957; Paris Impressions, Vol. 1, 1958; Paris Impressions, Vol. 2, 1958; Dreamstreet, 1959; The One and Only Erroll Garner, 1960; Close-up Swing, 1961; Easy to Love, 1961; You Brought a New Kind of Love, 1963; Erroll Garner, 1964; Now Playing: A Night at the Movies, 1964; That’s My Kick, 1966; Up in Erroll’s Room, 1968; Feeling Is Believing, 1970; Gemini, 1971; Magician, 1974. The Life Erroll Louis Garner was born into a musical family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1921. His father and older brotherwere professional musicians, and his three sisters were also musically gifted. Though his father encouraged him to take piano lessons, Garner preferred playing baseball. However, the lure of music eventually overcame his interest in sports, and he began learning to play piano by ear. Dodo Marmarosa and Billy Strayhorn, who lived nearby and who later became important jazz pianists, helped the fledgling pianist. Garner was playing professionally in the Pittsburgh area by the time he was twelve. Garner moved to New York City in 1944, and by the end of the decade he was recording and performing extensively. In 1955 he recorded Concert by the Sea, one of the best-selling jazz records of all time. Garner’s melodic, hard-swinging playing had tremendous popular appeal, and by the late 1950’s he was one of the most well-known figures in jazz. His popularity extended beyond jazz audiences, and he appeared on television many times in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He toured Europe extensively in the early 1960’s. He was also an occasional composer. He wrote his most well-known song, “Misty,” in 1954. Garner died of a heart attack in 1977. The Music Garner began his career firmly rooted in the stride tradition of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson. His own style evolved quickly, retaining elements of stride and ragtime, but also showing the strong influence of swing pianists such as Teddy Wilson and Earl “Fatha” Hines. His ballad style reflects the influence of Art Tatum, containing florid, right-hand sixteenth- and thirty-second-note passages surrounding statements of the melody. Like Tatum, Garner left few spaces unfilled. His dense, two-hand chordal passages also recall Tatum. His ballad treatments, often containing extended introductions of unrelated material before the beginning of the actual song, are another signature of Garner’s style. Garner’s up-tempo playing is often characterized by rhythmically propulsive left-hand quarter notes. This device represents an updated treatment of the left hand common in Scott Joplin’s ragtime writing, expanding the voicings to four-note seventh chords in open position, often with a tenth between the outer voices. These lefthand voicings, which come directly from the stride piano style, recall the guitar style made famous by Freddie Green of the Count Basie Band. Over this rocksolid left hand, Garner superimposed melodies and improvised lines in octaves and block chords, a pianistic device often first attributed to Hines. Garner’s right-hand lines were often played behind the beat, especially at medium tempi, sometimes lagging behind the left hand as much as an eighth note. This rhythmic independence between right and left hands, technically quite difficult, is one of the most identifiable traits of Garner’s playing. The Dial Sessions. Soon after moving to New York City in 1944, Garner began playing regularly at jazz clubs on Fifty-second Street. In February of 1947, he recorded a session in California with Charlie Parker, along with bassist Red Callender and drummer Doc West. Garner recorded several tunes, including “Bird’s Nest” and “Cool Blues,” for Dial Records. Although Garner afterward remembered the session as one of the highlights of his career, he was not a bebop player, and he never played with Parker again. “Laura” and “Misty.” Garner’s first hit was the 1955 recording of the standard “Laura.” The clearly stated melody (surrounded by lush block chords and florid right-hand lines) and its brevity (just under three minutes long, it contains a short introduction and coda surrounding a single statement of the song form) made the recording accessible to nonjazz audiences and no doubt account for its popular success. Garner wrote a number of songs, such as “Dreamy,” “It Gets Better Every Time,” “One Good Turn,” and “No More Shadows,” but his bestknowncomposition– and one of the most recorded standards of all time–is the ballad “Misty,” written in 1954. Concert by the Sea. Garner recorded extensively, and his records sold well.Hewas something of a legend in the music industry for his ability to record a great deal of music in a relatively short period of time: Most of his albums consist of first takes recorded in a single session.OnSeptember 19, 1955, he recorded one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, Concert by the Sea, at a live concert in Carmel, California. This record contains the trademark Garner devices. The up-tempo versions of “I’ll Remember April,” “Red Top,” and “It’s All Right with Me” feature the now-famous left-hand strumming with right-hand octaves and block chords on the melody. Lush introductions to “Autumn Leaves” and “April in Paris” reveal the influence of Tatum. Medium-tempo versions of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “Teach Me Tonight” showcase his legendary dexterity, with the on-top-ofthe- beat left-hand pulse supporting the laid-back right-hand line. Musical Legacy Garner’s playing was highly idiosyncratic. While the particulars of his style were not widely imi tated, his heavily orchestrated yet pianistic approach to arrangements of popular songs–with its wide dynamic range and imaginative variety of textures–has influenced generations of pianists. His innate lyricism, coupled with his imaginative yet accessible treatments of well-known melodies, made him immensely popular, and his hardswinging right-hand lines and his sophisticated harmonic approach rooted him in the jazz tradition. One of the most impressive qualities of his playing is its sheer joy and ebullience.