What Key Did Erroll Garner Play It In?

     When and if science examines my brain, it will show that in the Sonny Rollins area of my brain, there is a considerable wing devoted to bassist Bob Cranshaw. So I DEVOURED Ethan Iverson’s interview with Mr. Cranshaw, which is full of priceless details, reflections, and insights.

Cranshaw speaks of a session he did with Erroll Garner that really sparked my imagination:

BC: Another experience that I’ve had like Sonny’s – I did a CD with Erroll Garner and Grady Tate. His last CD [JS note: the record is Magician, issued on Garner’s own Octave Records label in 1974]. The same kind of experience, like Sonny, played standards. He played a tune; it was his tune. He said, “Okay, Bob. I’m just gonna play a little of it so you can hear it.” He played the tune down. “Okay, now we’ll make a take. Take one!” He turned back to the piano and put his hands down for an intro. He was in another key. He had no idea. He played by ear. Grady and I looked at each other. I heard it, so I didn’t panic, but the two of us are looking there and we’re laughing because how in the hell… two second ago, he just played the tune in one key, and the guy says, “Now we’re gonna make a take,” and he turns to the piano and he’s already… wherever his hands were, that’s where it was. He had no idea. He couldn’t read shit.

EI: What a hell of a player, though.

BC: To think of that kind of gift.

EI: Do you think he was joking with you?

BC: Nope. He did it a few times. No. Wherever he turns, wherever his hands hit, he’d play there. Most of the time he’d play an intro, he’s not even sure what he’s gonna play. He’s playing something and he’s searching to see what tune. We had no idea. We watched and we just laughed. First of all, we came in the studio, and we were all short, so we were all the same size [laughs]. We went off on that because it was just funny with all of these short guys. It was the same kind of experience. He played. He just…played.

     [me again] Wow. That quote really put me on an Erroll Garner jag. I had several of the old Columbia records from the fifties, and I picked up another four LPs for a few dollars each at Amoeba. The internet and the Berkeley Public Library filled in a few more. So fun to listen to him. The groove is unreal. However much his playing stays within certain boundaries, those boundaries are a little wider than you think. And he always, always gives the impression that he’s playing spontaneously, from a totally committed, “all-in” place.

     The list is simply “Errol Garner recordings John has”, a random collection. I started writing down what keys he was playing tunes in, just because I was sitting at the piano while I was listening to them. Many of the most-played standards are done in their “usual” keys: Body and Soul, All The Things You Are, Indiana, Caravan, How Deep Is The Ocean, I’ve Got Rhythm, Laura, In A Mellow Tone, Oh! Lady Be Good, Stella By Starlight, Where Or When, Undecided, I Can’t Get Started, Sweet and Lovely, The Way You Look Tonight, and probably others I’m not as familiar with.

     Garner recorded pretty much every standard ever written, and there are surprisingly few duplications in his discography. I’ve put the duplicates in italics, and some of “rare” keys in bold.   

     No one solos on Erroll Garner records except Erroll Garner.

     Garner’s status in the Jazz canon is problematized by his almost total avoidance of interaction with other Jazz musicians or composers after those four sides with Charlie Parker in 1947. Obviously his bass and drum comrades were always great players, but there were no parings of, say, Garner and Carmen McRae, or Sweets Edison, or Shelly Manne, or Wes Montgomery (an all-no reading session!), or Roland Kirk, to name just a few combinations that would have stimulated him in worthwhile ways. Hey, maybe he should have been on Conference of the Birds!

7-11 Jump Ab (original) (6-27-54)
A Fine Romance Eb (1976)
A Foggy Day Ab (1976)
Ain’t She Sweet Db (7/2/51)
(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings C (6-27-54)
All of Me F (3-29-49)
All Of Me Db (Summer, 1961)

All the Things You Are Ab (3-29-49)
Anything Goes B (2/29/52) [I can’t say for sure, but I think it likely that the key is the result of tape speed.]
April In Paris Db (9-19-54)
As Time Goes By Gb (1965)
Autumn Leaves Eb minor (9-19-54)
Avalon Db (2/27/53)
(Back Home In) Indiana Ab (9-25-45)
(Back Home In) Indiana Ab (1/11/51)

Back In Your Own Back Yard Ab (Summer, 1961)
Bewitched Ab (1-30-52)
Body and Soul Db (3-29-49)
Body and Soul Db (1/11/51)

Can’t Help Loving Dat Man Db (1976)
Caravan F minor (2/27/53)
Charmaine Ab (1965)
Close To You Eb (1974)
Dearly Beloved Db (1976)
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Eb (6-27-54)
Easy To Love Db (3/30/53)
El Papa Grande (original) G minor (Summer, 1961)
Erroll’s Theme (original) Db (9-19-54)
Exactly Like You C (6-27-54)
Fine and Dandy F (7/2/51)
For Heaven’s Sake D (3-30-53)
Frenesi Eb (3/30/53)
Groovy Day Ab (3/30/53)
Honeysuckle Rose Db, F, Db (1/11/51)
How Could You Do A Thing Like That To Me? Bb (9-19-54)
How Deep Is The Ocean Eb (1965)
I Can’t Get Started C (1-11-51)
I Cover The Waterfront G (1/11/51)
I Found A Million Dollar Baby F (1965)
I Never Knew Ab (1/3/52)
I Only Have Eyes For You F (1974)
I Want A Little Girl Eb (6-20-49)
I’ll Get By Db (1965)
I’ll Remember April F (9-19-54)
(I’m) Confessing (That I Love You) Ab (6-20-49)
I’m in the Mood for Love Eb (1/11/51)
I’m in the Mood for Love Db (Summer, 1961)

In A Mellow Tone Ab (6-27-54)
It Gets Better Every Time (original blues) G (1974)
It’s All Right With Me Eb (9-19-54)
It’s Only A Paper Moon Db (1965)
I’ve Got Rhythm Bb (1976)
I’ve Got The World On A String Gb (6-27-54)
I’ve Got To Be A Rug Cutter Db (6-27-54)
Ja-Da Eb (1/3/52)
Jeaninne I Dream of Lilac Time Bb (1965)
Just A Gigolo A (1965)
Laura C (9-25-45)
Laura C (1/11/51)
Love For Sale Bb (3/30/53)
Love Walked In D (1976)
Love Walked In Ab (3-29-49)

Lovely To Look At Eb (1976)
Lullaby of Birdland C (2/27/53)
Lullaby in Rhythm G (3-30-53)
Mambo Carmel Bb (original) (9-19-54)
Mean To Me Eb (3/30/53)
Memories of You Db (2/27/53)
Misty Ab (original, duh) (6-27-54)
More Than You Know Eb (3-29-49)
Moonglow Bb (6-20-49)
Mucho Gusto (original) C minor (1974)
My Ideal Db (3/30/53)
My Silent Love C (Summer, 1961)
Nice Work If You Can Get It Ab (1976)
Nightwind (original) Ab (1974)
Oh, Lady Be Good! G (1/3/52)
Oh What a Beautiful Morning G (3/30/53)
Old Man River Db (1976)
On the Sunny Side of the Street Db (Summer, 1949)
Once In A While Eb (1/3/52)
One Good Turn (original) Eb (1974)
Part Time Blues Db (original) (6-27-54)
Penthouse Serenade (While We’re Alone) Ab (3-29-49)
Penthouse Serenade (While We’re Alone) Eb (1/11/51)

Play, Piano, Play D minor (1/11/51)
Red Top Db [Note to self: what the fuck is he doing on that one chorus, maybe three from the end?!] (9-19-54)
‘S Wonderful Db (2/27/53)
St. Louis Blues Ab (Summer, 1961)
St. Louis Blues Db (3/53)

Shadows (original) Ab (Summer, 1961)
Some Of These Days Db (Summer, 1961)
Someone To Watch Over Me Db (1974)
Someone To Watch Over Me Ab (1976)

Somebody Loves Me Ab (9-25-45)
Sonny Boy Ab (1965)
Stella By Starlight Bb (1965)
Stormy Weather Bb (6-20-49)
Strike Up The Band Ab (1976)
Summertime Bb minor (1/3/52)
Sweet and Lovely C (6-27-54)
Teach Me Tonight Ab (9-19-54)
The Best Things In Life Are Free Ab (Summer, 1961)
The Way You Look Tonight F (1/11/51)
There Is No Greater Love Ab (2/27/53)
There’s A Small Hotel C (6-27-54)
They Can’t Take That Away From Me Db (9-19-54)
This Can’t Be Love F (6-20-49)
Three O’clock in the Morning Eb (1965)
Undecided Bb (3-29-49)
Undecided Bb (1/11/51)

Watch What Happens Eb (1974)
Where Or When Bb (9-19-54)
Why Do I Love You? Db (1976)
Will You Still Be Mine? Db (2/27/53)
Yesterdays Db minor (3-30-53)
Yesterdays C minor (1974)

You Are My Sunshine Eb, Gb, Ab (6-27-54)
You Do Something To Me F, Bb (Summer, 1961)
You Made Me Love You Db (1965)
You’re Driving Me Crazy F (1/3/52)

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