By the age of three, Erroll was playing the piano successfully.
Like many successful composers and musicians, he did not choose to follow traditional teaching methods to learn the piano. He was a self-taught musician who never learned to read music. He simply played by ear, not by the page.
Being a piano savant, Erroll Garner began his long career in the spotlight at the age of seven. He started appearing on a Pittsburgh radio show. Nothing could stop Erroll. He was performing on the Allegheny riverboats by age 11. In 1937, his collaboration with saxophonist Leroy Brown became the highlight of Garner’s young career. Little did he know that his life was going to hold even more success.
In 1944, Erroll Garner moved to New York. From 1944 to 1947, Garner worked with bassist Slam Stewart and Charlie Parker. Although he was an amazing talent, he was quite small in stature; therefore, according to some, Garner would often sit on top of a large Manhattan telephone book. During the majority of his performances, along with sitting on a telephone book, Erroll Garner also was rumored to sing while playing. His vocals are featured in many of his recorded performances.
Although his musical ear was his major asset, Peterson was also well-known for his compositions. Peterson’s most recognized and celebrated composition was “Misty.” “Misty” was written in 1954. Because of this song, Erroll Garner was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame 37 years after its release. The song “Misty” also became an inspiration for the 1971 movie “Play Misty for Me.”
In his own words, Erroll discussed his gift, stating, “I always play what I feel. I always feel like me, but I’m a different me every day. I get ideas from everything. A big color, the sound of water and wind, or a flash of something cool. Playing is like life. Either you feel it or you don’t.” Of course, Erroll Garner was modest about his talents. However, it is agreed that his ability for playing the piano and using his ear to play music were remarkable talents.
Earl Hines, a fellow pianist and Pittsburgh resident, was a great example and influence for Garner. Garner’s level of success is often compared to the fame achieved by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. From 1947 through 1991, Erroll Garner recorded and released 15 records.
The most recent record from 1991 was “Body and Soul.” His most popular live recording was “Concert by the Sea” with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best. Other well-known albums included 1947’s “Giants of the Piano,” 1951’s “Erroll Garner at the Piano,” 1958’s “Paris Impressions” and 1967’s “That’s My Kick.” “Erroll Garner,” “Mambo Moves Garner,” “Misty,” “Feeling is Believing,” “Erroll Garner Amsterdam Concert,” “Erroll Garner Plays,” “Gemini,” “Magician” and “Play it Again Erroll” are the remaining of Garner’s recorded albums.
The United Kingdom hosted two rare consecutive appearances of Erroll Garner in 1964 on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s music series called “Jazz 625.” Garner performed with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin in these performances. A notorious shot of Garner was taken during these sessions. This shot includes sweat running down Garner’s face due to extreme thought and concentration during the performances.
At the time of his death, Erroll Garner was well-known all over the world. On January 2, 1977, he died at the age of 56.
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