is one of the most distinctive pianists of the jazz genre. Other than Thelonious Monk, no one is more identifiable or harder to imitate. A self-taught virtuoso, Garner devised a solo style that eliminated rhythm accompaniment. His hands worked totally independent of each other. With block chords he set the rhythmic tempo in his left hand, and with his right, he embellished on the tune, taking liberties with melody and time, often lagging behind the beat. Some jazz purists dismissed him because he maintained his style throughout his career and enjoyed popularity unknown to most jazz artists. But Garner’s interpretive abilities and technical superiority cannot be denied.
He made frequent TV appearances, toured five continents, fronted major symphony orchestras, and composed film scores. His compositions were for jazz piano, but in 1962, when Johnny Burke added lyrics to “Misty,” Garner’s 1954 tune soared in popularity and entered the jazz standard repertoire.
Garner began his professional career at seven, playing with the Candy Kids, and at 16 he joined the Leroy Brown band. In 1944-45 he played in a trio with bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Tiny Grimes before setting off on his solo career.
During the ‘60s Garner established his own record label. These LP’s have been reissued on CD by Telarc and reveal Garner’s sense of humor. The title cut of That’s My Kick is a new composition based on the changes of “I Get a Kick Out of You”; the lounge set song, “More,” is remade into a burner; and Garner makes “Tea for Two” fresh, playing with the time against bongo accompaniment, and alternating between piano and harpsichord. Still, Concert By The Sea (1955) is the epitome of his artistry.
His older brother Linton, who died in 2003, was also an accomplished pianist, based in Vancouver, B.C. (Sandra Burlingame)