Born: June 15, 1921 | Died: January 2, 1977 Primary Instrument: Piano
Born in Pittsburgh in 1921 (Sy Johnson's biographical note in The Erroll Garner Songbook has June 15, 1923 as Garner's birthdate), Errol Garner started playing piano at the age of two (three according to Johnson). He never learned to read music, probably because it was never a necessity for him. He learned to play the 'novelty' styles of Zez Confrey and others from listening to 78 records, a style which used steady left hand chord rhythms to support very free right-hand melodic interpretations. This provided a perfect basis for the hard-swinging jazz style that Garner was to pioneer. At the age of seven, Garner began appearing on radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids, and by the age of eleven he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats. Garner began to attract attention after he moved to New York in the early forties, and shortly afterwards he made his first recordings. By 1950, Garner had established himself an international reputation, and from that point until his death on January 2, 1977, he made countless tours both at home and abroad, and produced a huge volume of recorded work.
Garner's style evolved out of the 'novelty rags' of the twenties. More contemporary jazz influences include Earl Hines, another Pittsburgh native, and the rhythm compings of Freddie Green (Count Basie's longtime guitarist). But Garner was ultimately a very idiosyncratic player, and he doesn't fit well into any of the standard piano style groupings of 40's and 50's jazz. His characteristic traits are of course his steady, guitaristic, left hand compings, and, most obviously, his octaval treatments of melodies and solo lines. The major seventh arpeggio in octaves which introduces Garner's biggest hit, Misty is an example. Another typical Garnerism is the pizzicato, super-syncopated introduction. These intros are often highly independent of the main part of the piece. They range from fanciful to sassy, but always their choppy staccato serves to highten the driving effect once Garner turns on his relentless left hand rhythm.