Listen With Others

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Listener no 4663, Blurred Lines: A Setter’s Blog by Skylark

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 Jul 2021

My parents loved music and often played records, including The Greatest Garner. One fevered night I felt so happy, floating down a sunlit stream hearing the most beautiful music ever, which, when my fever broke, and I could tell Mum, we realised was Erroll Garner’s Skylark. It remains one of my favourite tunes. In my dad’s other Garner LP, Encores in Hi-Fi, I loved Erroll’s whimsical rendition of Humoresque. And when Dad bought Erroll Garner At The Piano, Erroll’s superb technique became apparent. (Most of the tracks, including Caravan and Lullaby of Birdland were recorded in a single take). When I started to buy my own music, I treated myself to Concert By The Sea, One World Concert, and several more CDs, but those two and At The Piano remain my favourite Erroll recordings.

One day I spotted Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano by James M. Doran in our library. Naturally, I snapped it up, and loved learning about my favourite pianist. Erroll couldn’t read music and wasn’t very academic, but a teacher changed his life, getting a piano installed in every classroom so that Garner could pursue his passion. Aged 7, he was playing on the radio. As an adult, he was so short that he chose to sit on two piano directories atop the piano stool to perform. I wrote to Mr Doran care of the publishers, to tell him how much his book had meant to me and soon afterwards, he phoned, telling me he wanted to fly to the UK to see me! (He lives in New York). His motive soon became clear – he wanted to relaunch the Erroll Garner Appreciation Society, with me running the UK and European side whilst he ran the USA and produced the magazine. Of course I agreed. During a lovely few days, Jim took me to London to meet some fellow Erroll fans, who soon became friends.

Though I never saw Erroll live (he died too soon), I enjoyed celebrating him with other fans. We often met in London to trawl Mole Jazz, Ray’s Records and Tower Records in search of rare treasures. The most notable meeting was in 1992, when we flew Eddie Calhoun, double bassist, and Kelly Martin, drummer, veterans of Erroll’s trio, to London. I was thrilled to meet them both – especially when Kelly called me his adopted daughter!

Once in Vancouver on business for a couple of nights, I was lucky enough to track down the club (with Jim’s help) where Erroll’s elder brother Linton, also a professional pianist, was playing. He looked like Erroll, exhibited similarities in playing and was utterly charming in conversation. He was very kind too, sending me a lovely photo of Erroll when I arrived home.

Sadly, most of my fellow fans have died now, and the Appreciation Society is no more. But I longed to mark the centenary of his birth by getting an Erroll grid published. It had to include Concert By the Sea, but I also wanted to include his most popular composition, Misty, in musical notes. However the first two phrases (“Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten in tree,” in Johnny Burke’s lyric), the grid had to be 14 cells wide – too wide perhaps? Plus there were several versions of Misty online in various keys. I had used the one in my piano books, starting on Bb, and believe that that’s the only possible solution, given the extra letters and grid, but still the endgame might frustrate some solvers.

Without much expectation of success, I submitted it, mentioning my worries about the endgame, so was particularly thrilled when Roger and Shane accepted it.

Be very careful about fan mail you send to authors. You never know where it might lead…


4 Responses to “Listener no 4663, Blurred Lines: A Setter’s Blog by Skylark”

  1. Encota said

    What a fabulous blog – many thanks

  2. Thanks so much, Tim.

  3. Phil Caine said

    Thank you for the blog – the most interesting one I’ve read. I didn’t know there was an Erroll appreciation society with a UK branch or I would have been a member.

  4. gillwinchcombe said

    Lovely heartfelt blog – thank you for introducing me to Erroll and his works

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