Erroll Garner

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Erroll Garner around 1947, photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

Erroll Louis Garner (born June 15, 1921 in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania , † January 2, 1977 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American pianist and composer of the genres mainstream and modern jazz , who was one of the style-forming pianists of the series of Jelly Roll Morton continued until Fats Waller and Art Tatum . He became particularly well known for his composition Misty (1954).


At the age of three, Garner began to learn the piano by playing music from records. At the age of seven he made his first appearances and was heard as a member of the Kan-D-Kids (Candy Kids) on the KDKA radio station . He later started in the Pittsburgh area, u. a. on river steamers on the Allegheny River , where he stepped in for pianists like Fate Marable , although he was overshadowed by his older brother Linton . He was a classmate of Dodo Marmarosa and met Billy Strayhorn while studying at Westinghouse High School . In 1937 he began to perform professionally; 1938-41 he played in the orchestra of saxophonist Leroy Brown . As a soloist he played in local bars such as the Mercurs , in silent film theaters and also as a church musician on Sundays.

In 1944 he moved to New York City , where he played in jazz clubs on 52nd Street such as the Three Deuces and Tondelayo's and where the pianist's first recordings were soon made in Timme Rosenkrantz 's apartment , which were later published on Blue Note . He played until 1945 - as the successor to Art Tatum - in the trio and quartet of Slam Stewart and recorded some 78s for Black & White Records . In the same year he founded his own piano trio and had a hit with Laura . In 1947, when he formed a trio with Red Callender and Doc West in Los Angeles, he accompanied Charlie Parker on his cool blues session ( dial sessions ). In May 1948 he gave a concert with his trio at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris.

In 1950 he was one of the first jazz pianists to appear as a soloist in a concert hall - in the "Music Hall" in Cleveland . In 1952 he was with Art Tatum, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson a member of the Piano Parade , which toured the United States. In the 1950s, Garner released a number of solo albums, including Long Ago (and Far Away) from 1951 and for Columbia Concert by the Sea from 1955 with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best , which was performed in Carmel-by- the-Sea , California, sold a million copies, and increased its popularity immensely. In 1954 he founded his own record label Octave Records , for which he occasionally recorded until 1973. He has also appeared on records by Benny Carter , Don Byas , Coleman Hawkins , Wardell Gray , Lucky Thompson , Teddy Edwards , Howard McGhee , Charlie Shavers , Vic Dickenson and with the orchestras of Georgie Auld and Boyd Raeburn .

In 1957 he made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra ; during the 1950s and 60s he was also a frequent guest on television shows, among others. a. with Ed Sullivan , Steve Allen , Jackie Gleason , Merv Griffin and Perry Como . At the end of the 1960s he was a star guest at the International Television Festival in Montreux , for which he had also composed the theme song. In the early 1970s he toured South America and the Far East; In 1973/74 he appeared on the French Riviera at gala events. Until the 1970s, Garner continued to play records; In 1974 the album Magician was released . 1974/75 he still had appearances with symphony orchestras in Washington DC and Honolulu.

Garner retired from the public eye in 1975 because of lung cancer and died of cardiac arrest on January 2, 1977 in Los Angeles after an attack of suffocation. His grave is in Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

His music

According to Martin Kunzler, Erroll Garner came from the Fats Waller / Count Basie school and combined elements of stride piano and bebop with romantic and baroque moments in his playing . "Powerful chords alternate with fine melodic lines." Garner himself said of his orchestral style:

"It appealed to me again and again to play on my instrument, play music as a big band - with riffs of Brass , melodic saxophone section, swinging solos and a strong rhythm section ."

Garner had a keen ear and astonishing technique, both with fast- swinging pieces of music and with his ballads , for which he was particularly famous ( Misty ). Garner used to play regular quarters with his left hand like clockwork, while his right hand introduced the melody in breakneck pearlescent runs and arpeggios and then broken it down into improvisations . He improvised the melody practically detached from the meter , which was made possible by the independent playing of the left and right hands. He had trained his technique not only on jazz, but also on the virtuoso piano music of Sergei Rachmaninow , Claude Debussy , Maurice Ravel , Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt , although as an autodidact he could not read sheet music.

A distinguishing feature of Garner were his extensive introductions, which strung together numerous, often humorous allusions and quotations from different pieces. At first he improvised for minutes with breakneck virtuosity before he found the actual piece to the delight of the audience.


  • Garner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1960). Garner was also very popular beyond jazz circles and often appeared on TV shows.
  • He played Misty in Clint Eastwood's debut film as director Play Misty for Me from 1971.

Discographic notes


  • Ernst Burger : Erroll Garner. The life and art of a brilliant pianist . Con Brio Verlagsgesellschaft, Regensburg 2006, ISBN 978-3-932581-81-6 (with CD with selected recordings 1946–1955)
  • James Doran: Erroll Garner. The most happy piano . Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, NJ 1985, ISBN 0-8108-1745-4

Lexical entries

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Martin Kunzler, p. 395 f.
  2. ^ Stanley Dance : Liner Notes from Concert by the Sea , Columbia Records.
  3. Thomas Mau: January 2nd, 1977 - anniversary of the death of jazz pianist Erroll Garner. In: WDR 5, Zeitzeichen from January 2, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
    John S. Wilson: Erroll Garner, Jazz Pianist, 53; Composed 'Misty,' 'That's My Kick'. In: New York Times, Jan. 3, 1977, p. 23 ( online ).