Erroll Garner

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Erroll Garner
Erroll George.jpg
c. 1947
Background information
Birth name Erroll Louis Garner
Born (1921-06-15)June 15, 1921
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died January 2, 1977(1977-01-02) (aged 55)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Composer, pianist
Instruments Jazz piano
Years active 1944–1974
Labels Mercury Records
Columbia Records
Verve Records
Blue Note Records
London Records
Savoy Records

Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1921[1][2] – January 2, 1977) 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".[3]


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to an African American family in 1921, Erroll began playing piano at the age of three. 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.[4] 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 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 famous "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.[4] 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.[4]

Short in stature (5 ft 2 in), Garner performed sitting on multiple telephone directories.[4][5] Considering that his small hands could barely span an octave on the piano keyboard, his rapid right-handed octave and chordal passages were all the more amazing. 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 a cardiac arrest on January 2, 1977. He is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.

Playing style[edit]

Erroll Garner headlining with Oscar Pettiford and J.C. Heard at Three Deuces nightclub on 52nd Street, May 1948

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.[3] 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."[3] Garner's ear and technique owed as much to practice as to a natural gift. 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 famously featured in Clint Eastwood's film Play Misty for Me (1971).


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" and "Sweet 'n' Lovely" 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. Other works include 1951's Long Ago and Far Away and 1974's Magician, both of 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.[6]

Because Garner could not write down his musical ideas, he used to record them on tape, to be later transcribed by others.[7]


  • Serenade To Laura (1945)
  • 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)
  • Other Voices, with orchestra (1957), Columbia CL1014
  • Soliloquy (1957), Columbia CL1060
  • 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, Crown Records CLP-5404 - 1964
  • Erroll Garner Plays Gershwin and Kern (1964), Mercury 826 224-2
  • Erroll Garner Amsterdam Concert (Concert 7 November 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 Records XPS617
  • Magician (1974), London Records 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



  1. ^ Erroll Garner (American musician) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2012-12-17.
  2. ^ "Erroll Garner, Jazz Pianist, 56; Composed 'Misty,' 'That's My Kick'", New York Times, January 3, 1977, p. 23.
  3. ^ a b c Erroll Garner at AllMusic
  4. ^ a b c d John Wilson, "Erroll Garner, Jazz Pianist, 53; Composed 'Misty,' 'That's My Kick'", New York Times, January 3, 1977, p. 23.
  5. ^ John Wilson, "Return of Erroll Garner; Phone Book Is Still His Prop at Village Gate", New York Times, May 29, 1965, p. 16.
  6. ^ "Garner's Serendipitous Hit", Wall Street Journal, 17 September 2009.
  7. ^ "Erroll Garner - Piano Solos Book 2, M. H. Goldsen, Criterion Music Corp, 1957. Preface.

External links[edit]