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James M Doran
Author
Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano, The Centennial Edition (1921-2021)
As we celebrate Erroll Garner's centennial (June 15, 2021) this new edition will inspire a new generation of Garner enthusiasts. Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano, Centennial Edition, is divided into three sections, as was the original 1985 edition. The first section, "His Story," has been updated to include the vital records of the interviewees who participated in the oral history project. With the passage of time, most of the voices in the oral history are now gone. "His Times" is a chronology of Erroll Garner's ancestral background dating back to the early 1800s and his personal and professional life from birth to his death in 1977. Most of the additions to the chronology were in the 1940s during his appearances at Mercur's Music Bar in downtown Pittsburgh, details that were unavailable at the time of the original edition's publication."His Recorded Music" is a detailed discography featuring the 78, 45, and 33 1/3 rpm discs issued (and unissued) over Erroll Garner's recorded history from 1937 to 1975.
Reviews
Doran’s “centennial edition” of his exhaustive, irreplaceable study of the life, times, and work of jazz giant Erroll Garner arrives, in updated and expanded form, two decades after the book went out of print—and collectors and fans of the jubilant pianist sometimes known as “The Happy Man” found themselves having to shell out a mint for used copies. Now, though, Doran’s tome returns on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the late Garner’s 1921 birth, its bifurcated structure–split between an account of Garner’s life told by the people who knew him and the most authoritative of Garner discographies, spanning the eras of the 78 to the CD.

That dual focus means the book remains a treasure trove for both the casual fan, eager to read the oral history’s anecdotes of family and musicians, and the Garner diehard committed to mastering the details of this master improviser’s every mid-century radio broadcast, recording date, or TV appearance–Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, and Johnny Carson all found time for jazz music in the early 1960s. The biographical section, meanwhile, bursts with lively talk and vivid detail from dozens of interviewees, many of them now deceased. “Three things about Erroll: He was great, he always smoked, and he was always late,” notes pianist Alyce Brooks, while the storied bassist Ray Brown, who knew Garner when both were making a name for themselves in Pittsburgh, says “Erroll Garner played with such feeling that you feel like paying him to play with him.”

True to the spirit of a musician with the most inviting of demeanors and musical approaches, The Most Happy Piano stands as an unusually welcoming jazz book. Like a Garner performance (such as the one captured on 1955’s best seller Concert By the Sea), Doran’s study has the feeling of a celebration. It doesn’t just tell the story of a singular American musician; it preserves the memories of those who knew him for the benefit of the future.

Takeaway: Back in print at last, this irreplaceable study of jazz great Erroll Garner offers riches for casual fans and diehard collectors.

Great for fans of: Nat Shaprio and Nat Hentoff’s Hear Me Talkin' to Ya, Ben Sidran’s Talkin’ Jazz: An Oral History.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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