Tom Garvin dies at 67; versatile jazz pianist, composer


Tom Garvin, a jazz pianist and composer-arranger who was best known as an exceptional accompanist, died July 31 at an assisted living facility in Encino. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, which diagnosed three years ago, said Tom Mitchell, a close friend.

A fixture on the Los Angeles jazz scene, Garvin was “one of our town’s better jazz pianists,” The Times said in 1990.

His specialty was accompaniment, and he did it “with a flair not often engendered by other pianists,” John Gilbert wrote in 2003 in the online magazine


Photos: Notable deaths of 2011: Music

The many artists Garvin performed with include noted jazz vocalists Carmen McRae, Peggy Lee, Lou Rawls and Diane Schuur. As recently as 2006, Garvin led a trio for Jack Jones.

“His accompaniments offered both musical support and expressive space — a secure foundation for singers to rove freely in the telling of their musical stories,” said jazz critic Don Heckman. “His jazz trio work was equally engaging.”

In 1972, Garvin began writing songs for the Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen and eventually composed dozens of tunes for the TV program.

“I’d just write them and send them in,” Garvin told The Times in 1992. “I went in once and watched Doc rehearse one of my tunes, and he was excellent.… So I thought, ‘Hey, I don’t need to be here.’ ”

Such public reticence contributed to Garvin’s relatively low profile outside of the jazz community, according to Mitchell.


The lack of visibility was surprising given his musicianship and “articulately crafted keyboard style,” Heckman wrote in a 2001 Times review of a performance that featured such standards as “I’ll Close My Eyes” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”

Garvin was born Feb. 4, 1944, in Petersburg, Va. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother did clerical work while they lived with his grandmother.

As a child, he received a key gift from his mother — a toy piano. From then on, Garvin wanted to be a musician, Mitchell said.

After earning a degree in music composition at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute in the mid-1960s, Garvin served as a pianist-arranger in the Army Field Band.

The only album he released was “In Three Dimensions,” which featured his big band on one side and his trio on the other.

Briefly married, Garvin tended to name many original tunes after the women he dated and his close friends. His oeuvre included “Mitch,” “Talara,” “Elaine” and “Jane.”


Garvin, who was a longtime resident of North Hollywood, has no immediate survivors.

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011: Music