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Musician Ernest McCarty Jr. pays tribute to friend and legendary Pittsburgh pianist with new project

It only took two days—July 27 and 28— and zero rehearsal time for bassist Ernest McCarty Jr., drummer Jimmie H. Smith, conga player Noel Quintana and late pianist Geri Allen to record, “A Reunion Tribute to Erroll Garner.”

“Ernie put everything together—the conga player and Geri Allen and he sent for me to come record in Pittsburgh. It was beautiful,” recalled Smith, 79, who resides in Los Angeles but hails from New Jersey. Smith began performing with Garner in 1969 and remained with the group until 1977. “We didn’t have no rehearsal, no nothing; we just sat down and hit—bang there it is. It was a pleasure doing it and it turned out so fantastic. I didn’t know what Ernie had in mind; my main thing was I just kept the time. But when we were with Erroll, we never had a rehearsal. We never knew what we were going to record. Erroll was a genius. On the Reunion Tribute to Erroll Garner CD, there was no music written down, we just played and recorded in two days.”


The result is an album reminiscent of Erroll Garner’s swing-style of off-the-cuff recording combined with more traditional versions of Garner’s songs. Recorded, mixed and mastered at Aspinwall’s Heid Studios a few weeks ago, the songs are ones that both McCarthy and Smith performed with Garner on numerous occasions.

“I felt like I was hit across the head with something on the first songs and then at the end it was like someone put ointment on it. It was crazy!” McCarty Jr. recalled when listening to the CD.

The first part of the disc contains lots of African rhythms and cruises along until it relaxes listeners with the final song. The recording session was supervised by George Heid Jr. Heid’s father, George Heid Sr., supervised Garner’s very first recording on December 20, 1937 in Downtown Pittsburgh. McCarty Jr.’s wife, Patricia Kearney, served as executive producer.

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