The Joy and Genius of Erroll Garner

This show first aired on December 17, 2020.

Erroll Garner, the jazz pianist, is undergoing an upward revaluation of the sort that artists dream of: a reputational transition forty-some years after he died. In his time, mid-twentieth century, Erroll Garner was a pop star on records and concert stages worldwide. He could make the piano sound like a big band, or an orchestra; and he composed enchanting new music on the fly. It was tune-centered, accessible—danceable, even. Label it easy jazz, if you weren’t listening too carefully. In the long aftermath, it’s players and critics who missed him the first time who’re finding much more in the Garner legacy: genius, for sure, but also truth, beauty, and miracles of spontaneity in a man of deep understanding.

Zooming with Robin D. G. Kelley.

The afterlife of an artistic legend is the thread running through this hour’s musical conversation. The artist in question is the one-off and self-taught jazz pianist Erroll Garner. He arrived from Pittsburgh on 52nd Street in New York as jazz was being retooled in the 1940s. He made one of the all-time best-selling jazz concert albums in the ’50s, toured the world in the ’60s, and died in the ’70s. Forty-some years later, respect for Erroll Garner is going deeper. It was always safe to say he was a jazz genius, but is it enough?

The cultural historian Robin D. G. Kelley at UCLA is the biographer of another piano giant Thelonious Monk. Around the Garner legacy, Robin Kelley’s has been engaging eminent players in today’s music in a series of podcasts. With the likes of Vijay Iyer, Chick Corea, Jason Moran, and Helen Sung (all pianists) and the drummer Terri Lynn Carrington, Robin begins each time with the question, “Who is Erroll Garner to you?”

And here’s a Youtube playlist of Erroll Garner, starting with “Misty”:


Guest List
Robin D. G. Kelley
Historian and host of "Erroll Garner Uncovered."

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