Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


GARNER, Erroll

(b 15 June 1923, Pittsburgh PA; d 2 January 1977, Los Angeles) Piano, composer. He was self-taught and never learned to read music, but his his irrepressible humour, swing and gift for melody made him one of the most popular of jazz artists: indeed there was no one else like him, his style instantly recognizable. Encouraged by his schoolmate Billy Strayhorn, he went to NYC '44 to play in 52nd Street clubs including Tondaleyo's, where he was the house pianist (but once played in four clubs in one evening). His very first recordings were made privately by the Danish jazz fan Baron Timme Rosenkrantz in his apartment, later issued on 10-inch Blue Note LPs, still later compiled in a three-LP box on Official (Denmark) as Overture To Dawn: lovely impressionistic improvisations unhindered by side-length limitations. He formed a trio with John Simmons and Harold 'Doc' West; their studio recordings late '44 were issued on Atlantic and Musidisc, '45 on Savoy, his solos '45 on Signature later on compilation Classic Pianos (with Earl Hines, James P. Johnson, Art Hodes); solo and trio tracks '47 on The Dial Masters on Spotlite; Savoy tracks compiled on Yesterdays '45-9 and Penthouse Serenade '49 on Savoy USA.

He won many polls starting with Esquire New Star '46, appeared in Paris '48, toured Europe '57-8, was the first jazz musician to be booked by classical impresario Sol Hurok '58. Wrote 'Misty' '54, words added by Johnny Burke: there were beautiful early recordings by Dakota Staton, then Sarah Vaughan; it has been a pop hit by Johnny Mathis '59, Lloyd Price '63, the Vibrations '65, Richard 'Groove' Holmes '66, Ray Stevens '75: ASCAP has repeatedly honoured it as one of the most-played standards of past decades. He recorded it for the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood film Play Misty For Me '71; he wrote themes for film A New Kind Of Love '63. His other famous songs included 'Dreamy', 'That's My Kick', 'Moment's Delight', 'Solitaire', 'Passing Through', many more. The House of Representatives wished him a happy birthday on 15 June '76; the Dayton Ballet Company toured with a ballet set to his music early '80s; The Erroll Garner Songbook arranged by Sy Johnson was published by Cherry Lane Music.

Garner LPs to make the Billboard pop album chart included Other Voices '57 (with 'Misty') and Concert By The Sea '58 (recorded live in Carmel CA '56 outdoor concert, one of the best-selling jazz LPs of the decade, with Denzil Best and Eddie Calhoun), both on Columbia; also Dreamstreet '61 on ABC, One World Concert '63 on Reprise (live at Seattle World's Fair); many more were hits in jazz charts. Other LPs from the '50s: Plays Misty, Solitaire and Afternoon Of An Elf on Mercury; Soliloquy, Dreamy, Play It Again, Erroll and two-disc Paris Impressions on Columbia. He began producing his own LPs c'60; many of his best on various labels were later available on his own Octave label, later on RCA in France or Bulldog in UK including some of those above plus Closeup '61 from ABC-Paramount, Amsterdam Concert '64 from Philips; Campus Concert '62, A Night At The Movies '64 from MGM (all these with bassist Eddie Calhoun, drummer Kelly Martin); also A New Kind Of Love '63 from Mercury (with 35-piece orchestra); That's My Kick '67 from MGM (with Milt Hinton, guitarist Artie Ryerson, drummer George Jenkins, Johnny Pacheco); Gemini (played harpsichord as well as piano), Feeling Is Believing '69 (title track had words added by Sammy Cahn, became 'Something Happens'), Up In Erroll's Room and Magician, all from MPS; Plays Gershwin And Kern from EmArcy. There was also a three-LP set (two cassettes) from the Book of the Month Club in USA: 30 tracks '61-70. Beware of cheap CBS compilations with a slushy uncredited studio orchestra which has been dubbed. Telarc were compiling CDs with two LPs on each: Dreamstreet/One World Concert '95, A Night At The Movies/Up In Erroll's Room '96, Closeup In Swing/A New Kind Of Love '97.

Martha Glaser had helped to get Garner out of the gin mills and into concert halls; she remained a fierce gatekeeper of his estate until she died (2 December 2014, aged 93). With her out of the way, the complete Concert By The Sea was finally issued in 2015, the 3-cd set including a reissue of the original (edited) best-seller; and in 2016 came Ready Take One, a new album for the fans, almost 40 years after Garner's death, compiling trio takes from 1967-71, with Jose Mangual on conga added (but not too intrusive). Martha had formed the Octave label for Garner's music; her heirs have revived it in 2019 and issued albums One World Concert, Closeup In Swing, Dream Street and A New Kind Of Love (licenced to Mack Avenue Records), to be followed by the other Octaves.