May 23, 1988 12:00 PM

Erroll Garner

Was he ever. Not just easy to like, though his playing was as effusive and melodic and accessible as any jazz pianist’s ever. Love was Garner’s coin. He pumped out so much of it at the keyboard, so much lavish, surprising, thrillingly clear music—incendiary, multi-rhythmed one instant, hushed, skating, whimsically conspiratorial the next—that you had to respond in kind. He could be sentimental, but he was never superficial. Right up to his death in 1977, at 53, Garner embraced life in every note he played, conveying titanic joy, epic tenderness. Fellow pianists especially treasured him. “I don’t think there is a jazz pianist, young or old, who hasn’t been influenced by Erroll Garner,” Jimmy Rowles once told critic Whitney Balliett. Ahmad Jamal said to writer Len Lyons, “Anyone who has never been influenced by Erroll has not been in our field. Erroll was an orchestra within himself.” The latest appreciator is Dudley Moore—10, Arthur, funnyman, accomplished jazz and classical pianist too—whose spirited and perceptive liner notes grace this album, which contains nine previously unreleased Garner trio performances (Easy to Love, Lover Come Back, September Song…), all of them superb. “Garner brought to the piano an element which I don’t think anyone else had previously provided—the element of sensuality,” Moore writes. “…[He had] a smooth undulating arm that floats and caresses sweetly above a gently pulsating bass.” At another point Moore confides, “Mind you, there are parts of Garner that I don’t appreciate at all or find particularly remarkable. I don’t think his wayward introductions are necessarily an extraordinary feature of his work.” Wayward is a brilliant descriptive word, but Garner’s waywardness was itself brilliant. (The great avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor said, in an interview with Gary Giddins, “Garner is always staggering when you listen to those introductions because to me, they are the compositions.”) Garner gives you plenty to marvel at and sometimes a little to disagree about too. Mostly, however, he gives pleasure, prodigally. As Moore puts it, “His music has got into my veins and I wish that everyone could be as drugged as I am with this particular nonchemical.” (EmArcy)

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