Extensive collection of music, audio recordings, awards, photos, and correspondence is a gift from Garner's late manager
The professional materials of Pittsburgh-born jazz pianist Erroll Garner—a brilliant virtuoso who was one of the most influential musicians of his genre—have been given to the University of Pittsburgh Library System.Assembled by his longtime agent, manager, and civil-rights advocate, the late Martha Glaser, the collection is an exceptionally complete record of a major mid-20th-century musical career and of both Garner and Glaser’s roles in removing racial barriers in the music industry and asserting artists’ rights.
The Erroll Garner Archive, donated to Pitt by Glaser’s estate, will be housed within Pitt’s University Library System.
The materials include correspondence, performance and recording contracts, photographs, sheet music, awards, sound and video recordings, and memorabilia ranging from an illustration of Garner sketched on a cocktail napkin in a Paris jazz club to a telephone book he used to sit on while performing to boost his short stature (5 ft. 2 in.) so he could better leverage the piano keys.
Garner, born in Pittsburgh on June 15, 1921, began playing piano when he was three years old. By age 7, he was performing on KDKA Radio with a group called the Kan-D-Kids. He attended Westinghouse High School and moved to New York City in 1944. Ten years later, he recorded his best-known composition, Misty, a lush ballad that was recorded by hundreds of instrumentalists and vocalists over the years and became the signature song of Johnny Mathis. Garner died of lung cancer in 1977 at age 55 and is buried at Homewood Cemetery. June 15 would have been his 94th birthday.
To mark the anniversary of Garner’s birthday, Sony Legacy has announced the release of a new Garner album, The Complete Concert by the Sea, co-produced by Pitt Jazz Studies Director and pianist Geri Allen. The album, to be released jointly with the Octave Music Publishing Corporation, will feature 11 previously unreleased tracks and never-before-heard interviews of the Garner Trio.
It is fitting that the Erroll Garner Archive has found its permanent home at Pitt, says Steven Smallowitz, spokesman for the Glaser estate, because both Glaser and Garner were from Pittsburgh and because of the “long and marvelous history of Black music and jazz that originated in Pittsburgh.”
“The University has one of the top-rated archival facilities in the country,” he added. “It’s also one of the few universities with a 45-year commitment to jazz studies, including a Jazz Studies Program with a PhD concentration, directed by international renowned pianist Geri Allen. Pitt’s willingness to see the Garner Archive as a bridge to the community for the strengthening of jazz studies, performance, and preservation, has been most central to our decision to donate the collection to Pitt.”
Providing a permanent home for the archive is well-aligned with the strengths of the Department of Music, says N. John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences that houses the Jazz Studies Program.
“This collection, an amazing legacy of one of the most original and individualistic pianists in the jazz narrative, will be a strong draw for scholars and prospective music doctoral students,” said Cooper. “Jazz is one of the most important art forms original to America and one that we at Pitt are committed to preserving and expanding through the artistry and scholarship of our faculty, the quality of our teaching, and our engagement with the broader community.”
Allen says the archive “offers an opportunity for a deeper or more definitive understanding of Garner’s contributions and his musical legacy, and thereby a richer understanding of the cultural history itself.”
“Mr. Garner’s innovative singular piano technique personifies a joy of fearless virtuosity and exploration,” she added. “One of the defining precursors to bebop, he embodied the very spirit of swing, free improvisation, and the blues.”
More About Erroll Garner
An American jazz pianist and composer best known for his swing playing and ballads, Erroll Garner was born in Pittsburgh on June 15, 1921. He started playing at age three and played music “by ear” all his life. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing professionally on Pittsburgh riverboats and occasionally with the Leroy Brown Orchestra. He moved to New York City in 1944 and played at the Three Deuces on 42nd Street with Slam Stewart, guitarist Johnny Collins, and drummer Harold West. In 1945, Garner recorded Serenade to Laura for the Savoy label. It sold close to half a million copies in the United States and propelled the pianist into the public eye.
Garner was one of the most popular entertainers of the 1950s and produced a large volume of recorded work and toured both home and abroad. Considering his small hands could barely span an octave on the keyboard, his rapid right-hand octave and chordal passages were all the more amazing. He is credited with having a superb memory of music and also for helping to bridge the gap for jazz musicians between nightclubs and concert halls. His 1955 live album Concert by the Sea was released by Columbia and became one of the largest-selling jazz releases of all time.
Garner scored films in the 1960s, including the music for A New Kind of Love, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. His successful albums during that decade included the Erroll Garner Plays Gershwin and Kern (Mercury), Easy to Love (Verve/Polygram), and That's My Kick (MGM).
Throughout the 1970s, Garner toured the world and continued to record as well as score films, ballets, and Broadway musicals. His famous 1954 jazz standard Misty was featured in the 1971 Clint Eastwood-directed movie Play Misty for Me, starring Eastwood and Jessica Walter.
Garner was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975 and died two years later at age 55, leaving behind a long and strong legacy.
About the University Library System
The University of Pittsburgh University Library System is the 25th largest academic library system in North America. It includes 14 libraries and holds more than 7.1 million volumes, specialized collections, and major foreign-language materials from around the world. The University Library System offers state-of-the-art facilities and services, including digital library collections and services, a robust Open Access publishing program, and innovative services supporting digital scholarship.
About the Erroll Garner Jazz Project
The archive was organized through the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, which preserves and promotes Garner's cultural and musical legacy. A yearlong 60th Anniversary celebration of The Complete Concert by the Sea in 2015 will include a new interactive website at www.errollgarner.com Proceeds will benefit African American jazz programs.