The legendary pianist Erroll Garner’s most famous composition, “Misty,” was written as an instrumental in 1954 for his 1955 album Contrasts. Lyrics were added in 1959 by Johnny Burke and it became the signature song of Johnny Mathis, and was subsequently recorded by Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, and countless others. Garner’s version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1991.
In this excerpt from an interview with the drummer Art Taylor, Garner describes how he wrote “Misty:”
I wrote “Misty” from a beautiful rainbow I saw when I was flying from San Francisco to Chicago. At that time, they didn’t have jets and we had to stop off in Denver. When we were coming down there was a beautiful rainbow. This rainbow was fascinating because it wasn’t long but very wide and in every color you can imagine. With the dew drops and the windows being misty, that fine rain, that’s how I named it “Misty.” I was playing on my knees like I had a piano, with my eyes shut. There was a little old lady sitting next to me and she thought I was sick because I was humming. She called the hostess, who came over, to find out I was writing “Misty” in my head. By the time I got off the plane, I had it. We were going to make a record date, so I put it right on that date. I always say that wherever she is today that old lady was the first one in on “Misty.”