ERROLL GARNER Biography - Musicians


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Name: Erroll Louis Garner                                                             
Born: June 15, 1921 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA                                     
Died: January 2, 1977                                                                 
Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1921 - January 2, 1977) was an American jazz           
pianist and composer whose distinctive and melodic style brought him both             
popular acclaim and the admiration of peers. It is a well-known fact that Garner     
was never able to read sheet music.                                                   
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. in 1921, Erroll began playing piano at         
the age of 3. He attended George Westinghouse High School (as did 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 7, Garner began appearing on 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 age 16 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.                                                           
Short in stature, Garner was reputed to perform sitting on a Manhattan telephone     
directory. Films from the early to mid 60's do show him seated on something           
resembling this. He was also known for his occasional vocalizations while             
playing, which can be heard on many of his recordings. He is generally credited       
for having bridged the gap for jazz musicians between night clubs and the             
concert hall.                                                                         
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"'. Although "Misty" rapidly       
became a standard with singers -- and was famously featured in Clint Eastwood's       
Play Misty for Me (1971) -- it was never a favorite with fellow instrumentalists.     
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. Errol's style however,     
was unique and had neither obvious forerunners nor competent imitators although,     
at an amateur level, more players attempted to imitate him than any other             
pianist in jazz history. A key factor in his sound was the independence of his       
springy but rock-steady left hand from the seemingly wayward melodies of the         
right. He would often start his playing with a strange mixture of notes bearing       
no resemblance to any musical composition which gave his audience a sense of         
excitement not knowing which number he was about to perform. Whether in ultra         
slow ballads or rampant up-tempo improvisation, this never failed to convey a         
humorous and titilating attitude to both the material at hand and the audience.       
Errol was a jazz musician through and through, his popular appeal arising             
directly from his playing. It was achieved without the aid of jocular vocals or       
ingratiating announcements, in the manner of Louis Armstrong or Fats Waller (the     
only comparable figures in terms of earning universal affection), and it seems       
equally unlikely that he tailored his music to the demands of success. He merely     
found the way to people's hearts and never lost it.                                   
Garner had established himself an international reputation, and from that point       
until his death on January 2, 1977, he made many tours both at home and abroad,       
and produced a huge volume of recorded work.                                         
Garner is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.