Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1921 – January 2, 1977) was an American jazz pianist and composer known for his swing playing and ballads. His best-known composition, the ballad "Misty", has become a jazz standard. Scott Yanow of Allmusic calls him "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" and a "brilliant virtuoso." He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6363 Hollywood Blvd. His live album, Concert by the Sea, first released in 1955, sold over a million copies by 1958 and Scott Yanow's opinion is: "this is the album that made such a strong impression that Garner was considered immortal from then on."
Garner was born with his twin brother Ernest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 15, 1921, the youngest of six children in his family. He attended George Westinghouse High School (as did fellow pianists Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal). Interviews with his family and music teachers (and with other musicians), plus a detailed family tree are given in Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano by James M Doran.
Garner began playing piano at the age of three. His elder siblings were taught piano by Miss Bowman. From an early age, Erroll would sit down and play anything she had demonstrated, just like Miss Bowman, his eldest sister Martha said. Garner was self-taught and remained an "ear player" all his life, never learning to read music. At age seven, he began appearing on the radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids. By age 11, he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats. In 1937 he joined local saxophonist Leroy Brown.
He played locally in the shadow of his older pianist brother Linton Garner.
Garner moved to New York City in 1944. He briefly worked with the bassist Slam Stewart, and though not a bebop musician per se, in 1947 played with Charlie Parker on the "Cool Blues" session. Although his admission to the Pittsburgh music union was initially refused because of his inability to read music, it relented in 1956 and made him an honorary member. Garner is credited with a superb musical memory. After attending a concert by the Russian classical pianist Emil Gilels, Garner returned to his apartment and was able to play a large portion of the performed music by recall.
Garner made many tours both at home and abroad, and regularly recorded. He was, reportedly, The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson's favorite jazz musician, appearing on Carson's show many times over the years.