It is strange how a young piano player achieves recognition in the jazz field. There are so many good piano players that some unusual talent must stand out to make people label one individual, great. Errol Garner has achieved that distinction.
This writer has been favored with many opportunities to hear Garner play at his best--at intimate gatherings. Some of these come to mind--like the time a party of twelve had been told of his prowess at the piano and were anxious to hear him. It was a Tuesday night, and after being seated comfortably in the club, we found out that it was Garner's night off. As a sponsor of the group, which included Jo Stafford, Paul Weston, Johnny Mercer and others, it was quite embarrassing. Luckily, Garner, on his night off, was across the street "digging" Billie Holiday. He graciously consented to sit in. There was a noisy audience and it was feared that this would upset the mood. However, as music soothes the beast, a few bars by Garner and every drunk in the place was hypnotized. It was a memorable concert, which made those present Garner fans, from then on.
At other gatherings in Hollywood, musicians like Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, Gordon Jenkins and Skitch Henderson were amazed at his technique and ideas. Many people have tried to label Garner with names like "The Debussy of Jazz", and surely that is a compliment. Garner's background serves to throw some light on his colorful style which could not stem from only a jazz upbringing. Errol did not have much formal musical education and had to rely upon his ear for instruction. If you listen to his playing, you will hear some of his tutors. Outstanding, is Fats Waller. Also noticeable is the fact that he listened to many classical recordings, which has influenced his style.
Errol was born in Pittsburgh in 1921. He came from a musical family which included his brother Linton, one of the better accompanists. He served a short time with some orchestras, but was definitely slated to be a soloist. Garner's greatest successes are achieved at intimate gatherings. Some of his biggest triumphs have been attained at concerts throughout the nation.
Here are various examples of the Garner style, some of which have never been recorded commercially. Garner's musical knack of improvising is best exemplified by "Babette" which he composed completely at one "take" at a private recording session. "Young Love" is one of his most beautiful works. There are also fine examples of his rhythmic style in "Bounce With Me", "From C to C" and "High Octane ".The original solos were transcribed by Morris Feldman, an outstanding man in the field. Garner heard these played by Feldman and was amazed at their accuracy. These solos will remain a written record of Garner's greatness and will help other pianists learn the color which he, and only he, has contributed to piano playing.
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