Erroll Garner: Into the Vault Take an essential and unprecedented glimpse into the music and life of the groundbreaking pianist-composer.
Nico van der Stam/Octave Music
Erroll Garner.
Nico van der Stam/Octave Music

Erroll Garner: Into the Vault

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What makes a first-tier jazz legacy? A signature instrumental style, recognizable within a phrase or two. A body of exceptional recordings, in the studio and in concert. A legion of imitators, great and small. A sense of broad cultural relevance. Maybe even a hit song or two.

Pianist-composer Erroll Garner met all of these requirements, and at least one more: He had a tireless champion, Martha Glaser, whose influence on his career went beyond her official role as manager and business partner. Her ministrations didn't end when Garner died in 1977, at 53; she just shifted modes, protecting his name and serving his interests as guardian of his estate, until her own passing in 2014.

In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll get a close look at Garner's ebullient magic — the sparkling touch that kept countless other pianists in awe, the wild improvisational flights that somehow always resolved just so — while also considering his reputation. We'll hear from Garner and Glaser, as well as contemporary admirers like noted scholar Robin D.G. Kelley.

And with unprecedented access, we'll join a small delegation from the Erroll Garner Jazz Project as they open up a trove of previously sealed boxes in a remote storage facility — uncovering Garner's own record collection, rare photographs and awards, and an array of personal effects. (Stetson dress shoes? Check.)

One of the would-be Indiana Joneses in that storage unit is Christian Sands, the creative ambassador for the Jazz Project, and a pianist unabashed about Garner's influence. In the show, we'll hear Sands' trio interpreting standards associated with Garner. And of course, there's some music by the man of the hour himself — including an exclusive outtake from the 1964 recording recently released as an album, Nightconcert.

"My hope," Sands remarks, "is for other people to understand that this is someone who is very important to not only just jazz history, but just history as a whole, American history." This special Jazz Night lines up a rich abundance of resources in service of that aim.

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