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All Music Guide:
One of the most distinctive of all pianists, Erroll Garner proved that it was possible to be a sophisticated player without knowing how to read music, that a creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music, and that it is possible to remain an enthusiastic player without changing one's style once it is formed. A brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else, on medium tempo pieces, Erroll Garner often stated the beat with his left hand like a rhythm guitar while his right played chords slightly behind the beat, creating a memorable effect. His playful free-form introductions (which forced his sidemen to really listen), his ability to play stunning runs without once glancing at the keyboard, his grunting, and the pure joy that he displayed while performing were also part of the Erroll Garner magic.
Garner, whose older brother Linton was also a fine pianist, appeared on the radio with the Kan-D-Kids at the age of ten. After working locally in Pittsburgh, he moved to New York in 1944 and worked with Slam Stewart's trio during 1944-1945 before going out on his own. By 1946, Garner had his sound together, and when he backed Charlie Parker on his famous Cool Blues session of 1947, the pianist was already an obvious giant. His unclassifiable style had an orchestral approach straight from the swing era but was open to the innovations of bop. From the early '50s on, Garner's accessible style became very popular and he never seemed to have an off day up until his forced retirement (due to illness) in early 1975. His composition "Misty" became a standard. Garner, who had the ability to sit at the piano without prior planning and record three albums in one day (all colorful first takes), made many records throughout his career for such companies as Savoy, Mercury, RCA, Dial, Columbia, EmArcy, ABC-Paramount, MGM, Reprise, and his own Octave label.
Erroll Louis Garner (June 15, 1923 – 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".
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to an African American family in 1923, Erroll began playing piano at the age of three. He attended George Westinghouse High School, as did fellow pianists Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. Garner was self-taught and remained an "ear player" all his life – he never learned to read music. At the age of seven, Garner began appearing on the radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids. By the age of 11, he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats. At 14 in 1937, he joined local saxophonist Leroy Brown.
He played locally in the shadow of his older pianist brother Linton Garner and moved to New York 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 famous "Cool Blues" session. Although his admission to the Pittsburgh music union was initially refused because of his inability to read music, they eventually relented in 1956 and made him an honorary member. Garner is credited with having a superb memory of music. 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.
Short in stature (5 ft 2 in), Garner performed sitting on multiple telephone directories. He was also known for his occasional vocalizations while playing, which can be heard on many of his recordings. He helped to bridge the gap for jazz musicians between nightclubs and the concert hall.
Garner made many tours both at home and abroad, and produced a large volume of recorded work. He was, reportedly, The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson's favorite jazz musician; Garner appeared on Carson's show many times over the years.
Erroll Garner died from a cardiac arrest on January 2, 1977. He is buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.
Playing style 
Called "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" by jazz writer Scott Yanow, Garner showed that a "creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music" or changing his personal style. He is referred to as a "brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else", using an "orchestral approach straight from the swing era but …open to the innovations of bop." Garner's ear and technique owed as much to practice as to a natural gift. His distinctive style could swing like no other, but some of his best recordings are ballads, such as his best-known composition, "Misty". "Misty" rapidly became a jazz standard – and was famously featured in Clint Eastwood's film Play Misty for Me (1971).
Garner's first recordings were made in late 1944 at the apartment of Timme Rosenkrantz; these were subsequently issued as the five-volume Overture to Dawn series on Blue Note Records. His recording career advanced in the late 1940s when several sides such as "Fine and Dandy" and "Sweet 'n' Lovely" were cut. However, his 1955 live album Concert by the Sea was a best-selling jazz album in its day and features Eddie Calhoun on bass and Denzil Best on drums. This recording of a performance at the Sunset Center, a former school in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, was made using relatively primitive sound equipment, but for George Avakian the decision to release the recording was easy. Other works include 1951's Long Ago and Far Away and 1974's Magician, both of which see Garner perform a number of classic standards. Often the trio was expanded to add Latin percussion, usually a conga.
In 1964, Garner appeared in the UK on the music series Jazz 625 broadcast on the BBC's new second channel. The programme was hosted by Steve Race, who introduced Garner's trio with Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums.
Since Garner could not write down his musical ideas, he used to record them on tape, to be later transcribed by others.