Erroll Garner - piano; John Simmons - bass; Shadow Wilson - drums
Though diminutive in stature (he was only 5 foot 2 inches in height and sat on a
Manhattan telephone directory so that he could really bear down on the keyboard), pianist
Erroll Garner was a giant of jazz. Beloved by fellow musicians like pianists Billy Taylor
and Art Tatum, he was a favorite of promoter and fellow pianist George Wein, who
booked Garner first into his Storyville nightclub in Boston and later showcased him at
the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. As Wein once said, "Garner is the single most
important piano stylist of the past 35 years. Most every piano player who has heard Erroll
Garner owes him something. Garner epitomizes all that makes jazz the great music of our
age. He is a natural. His music communicates to those who know nothing of the meaning
of the word jazz. His music is serious, yet joyous. He has developed an individuality
of style that has blessed only the greatest exponents of music. To put it simply, Erroll
Garner is a great musical genius. He has given me some of the most memorable and
musical moments of my life."
Garner's distinctive and immediately recognizable style, with its potent dynamics,
infectious swing feel and emphasis on melody, made him one of jazz's most popular
musicians during the 1950s. His composition "Misty" became a jazz standard and is
still covered to this day while his 1955 live recording, Concerts by the Sea, became
the best-selling jazz album of its day. Three years before that breakthrough recording,
Wein had booked Garner for an engagement at his intimate Storyville club in the Hotel
Buckminster on Kenmore Square near the Boston Red Sox home, Fenway Park. (Red
Sox star Ted Williams was reputedly an avowed Garner fan and would often be seen
in the Storyville audience for Garner's engagements there). The evening was recorded
and broadcast on Boston radio station WHDH and became part of Wein's massive audio
archive. Nearly 60 years later, this concert is being made available for the first time since
those Storyville patrons witnessed the original performance.
Following an introduction from the eminent jazz critic Nat Hentoff (now a respected
NEA Jazz Master), Garner opens his Storyville appearance with "Rosalie," a Cole Porter
tune from a 1937 movie of the same name, which the pianist had resuscitated on his 1949
Savoy album, Yesterdays. His trademark four-to-the-bar left hand approach, in which
he comps in the manner of a rhythm guitar and uses accents like a drummer to 'goose'
the beat, can be heard immediately on this set-opener. His signature use of soloing
with block chords in the right hand also comes into play on this energized rendition.
Garner's rhapsodic reading of "I Surrender Dear," a hit song for Bing Crosby in 1931,"
incorporates some florid right hand statements by the pianistic original.
His take on "Stompin' at the Savoy," a tune named for the Harlem dance hall and
claimed during the late '30s by the big bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, is
given a stripped-down trio reading by Garner, who embellishes the Swing era standard
with laid-back, behind-the-beat octaves. Dig John Simmons' insistent walking bass
on this old chestnut. From that ebullient romp they segue into a requested number, the
melancholy ballad forever associated with Billie Holiday, "Lover Man." Garner's rococo
right-hand statements here make for a wholly original take on that 1941 torch song. Next
up is an ebullient, Garnerized interpretation of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," a
Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields tune from the successful Broadway musical, Blackbirds
of 1928, His four-to-the-bar left handed comping statements and chordal melodies are
in full effect on this lively, mid-tempo swinging interpretation by the maestro. His
version of Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" opens with a solo flourish before
settling into a ballad form full of signature filigrees with the right hand. Garner concludes
his Storyville set with a jaunty rendition of the 1930 Tin Pan Alley number "I'm
Confessin' (That I Love You)" that serves as the best showcase of the evening of his laid
back,behind-the-beat phrasing of a melody with the right hand.
Born in Pittsburgh on June 15, 1923, Garner began playing piano at the age of three.
He attended George Westinghouse High School along with fellow Pittsburghers Billy
Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. Essentially self-taught, he never learned to read music
and remained an 'ear player' all his life. Garner's earliest gigs, at age 11, were on the
Allegheny riverboats. By 14, he joined a band led by local saxophonist Leroy Brown.
After playing locally, he moved to New York in 1944, briefly working with bassist Slam
Stewart on 52nd Street. In 1947, he played with Charlie Parker on the famous "Cool
Blues" session for Savoy Records. Garner's accessible style became popular in the 1950s
following the recording of "Misty" and his best-selling Concerts by the Sea album. He
continued recording and touring both at home and abroad through the '60s and was
reportedly the favorite jazz musician of "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson, who
booked him on the show many times. Garner died from a cardiac arrest on January 2,
1977. Perhaps George Wein put it best when he wrote in his autobiography, "Myself,
Among Others": "Erroll Garner was a true original in the history of jazz piano. For
reasons I do not understand, considering the high respect other contemporaries had for
him, Garner seems to have been forgotten by younger jazz critics and jazz pianists alike.
There was only one Erroll Garner and it would help every jazz pianist if they paid a little
more attention to his talent and creativity." (Bill Milkowski)