Friday, June 15, 2012

My Most Favorite Jazz Pianist EVER!!

Erroll Louis Garner
June 15, 1923 - January 2, 1977

I discovered Errol in 1957 while listening to "Bob McLaughlin's Club," a weekday late afternoon program on a Los Angeles radio station. Bob introduced each record as though the singer was actually there, performing live at his "Club." He even managed to get recordings of some of the singers saying a few words, so it all sounded very live and real. Between songs, there was always soft piano music playing in the background, and Bob referred to it as, "Intermission Pianist, Erroll Garner." Having just discovered jazz the year before, thanks to my junior high orchestra teacher, Mr. Schneeweis (for real... Mr. Snow White), and being a pianist myself, I was much more interested in the intermission pianist than I was in most of the rest of the music played on the show. I badgered the people at Carl's Record Store, near where I lived, to find out more about Mr. Garner for me, and they complied, and ordered a few of his records for me. The more I heard, the more I liked, and, though he's been gone for 35 years, I have many of his albums, both vinyl and CDs, and I listen to them often.

Erroll's style was unmistakable and, definitely, entirely his own. He would often play a little behind or ahead of the beat with his right hand, while his left hand remained rock steady on the beat. This created a sense of tension in the music, which he would resolve from time to time by bringing the timing back into sync. The imagination of his right hand was astounding... dancing all over the keys, sometimes throwing in a statement from another piece, which fit in with the tune he was playing so well, you'd only notice it after it was gone. The independence of his hands was evidenced by his truly masterful use of three against four figures, and even more complicated cross rhythms between his hands. To me it was utterly fascinating and I LOVED it!

I saw Erroll in person several times, and always tried to be seated where I could watch his hands on the keyboard. He was a very short man - only 5'2", and had to sit on a couple of telephone books in order to make a standard piano bench work. (It was rumored, however, when he played in New York, the Manhattan phone book by itself was sufficient to give the needed extra height.) He played fast tunes with an exuberance and joy I've seldom seen, and played ballads with an inward sense of contemplation that made you think he and you and the piano were the only entities in the auditorium. He never played from charts or music, because he never learned how to read music. He worked so tightly with his cohorts, that they could follow him no matter where he went with the tune or the chord  progressions. It was totally amazing. He uttered a lot of grunts and vocal inflections while he played, and who knows...? maybe that was some kind of code to his backup men...

This is my favorite view of Erroll from the audience...

Erroll's most famous compositions was "Misty," which was a huge success for both him and, later, for Johnny Mathis.

Erroll's most famous album, and my second favorite of his many recordings, featuring Eddie Calhoun on bass, and Denzil Best on drums. The chemistry between the three on this recording is mind-blowing!

My absolute favorite album... just Erroll... all alone, playing just for him and for me!

He was honored in the USPS Jazz Musicians series in 1995.

Our own personal tribute to Mr. Garner... our cat, Erroll!

Thanks for everything, Erroll! You did, and still do, fill my life with the pure joy of playing the piano!

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