The brilliant virtuoso pianist Art Tatum, a major influence on jazz through his own recordings and the playing of musicians who spent time studying him - Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, among others - can still get a table of jazz fans arguing and gnashing their teeth over his relevance. As recently as last year, the estimable critic Gunther Schuller brought back the anachronistic distinction between craft and art in his book ''The Swing Era,'' diminishing Tatum's work as mere craft. The 44 pieces collected on the three CD's, 36 of which are solos there are eight trio selections spread, illogically, over the two Capitol CD's , also show off an esthetic that, in its gleeful mixing and matching of styles, sounds utterly contemporary. The performances on the Decca CD are all from , and the Capitol recordings are split between two dates: the solos from , the trios from The quarrels over his importance notwithstanding, jazz before Tatum sounds different than jazz since. Tatum, who died in at the age of 47, was classically trained, but even if he had aspirations to perform on the traditional classical-music circuit, he probably would have been denied access to it, as were so many early black musicians.
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Arthur Tatum Jr. Tatum grew up in Toledo, Ohio , where he began playing piano professionally and had his own radio program, rebroadcast nationwide, while still in his teens.
He left Toledo in and had residencies as a solo pianist at clubs in major urban centers including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Throughout his career, Tatum also played in after-hours venues — at which he was said to be more spontaneous and creative than in his regular paid performances.
Tatum drank large quantities of alcohol when performing, and although it did not negatively affect his playing, it did damage his health. In the s, Tatum led a commercially successful trio for a short time and began playing in more formal jazz concert settings, including at Norman Granz -produced Jazz at the Philharmonic events.
Granz recorded Tatum extensively in solo and small group formats in the mids, with the last session occurring only two months before the pianist's death from uremia at the age of Tatum is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists.
Acclaimed for his virtuoso technique, Tatum extended the vocabulary and boundaries of jazz piano, and established new ground in jazz through innovative use of reharmonization , voicing , and bitonality. Tatum's mother, Mildred Hoskins, was born in Martinsville, Virginia ,  around , and was a domestic worker.
From infancy, Tatum had impaired vision. Accounts vary on whether Tatum's parents played any musical instruments, but it is likely that he was exposed at an early age to church music, including through the Grace Presbyterian Church that his parents attended. Johnson , who exemplified the stride piano style, and to some extent from the more modern Earl Hines ,   six years Tatum's senior. Tatum identified Waller as his biggest influence, while pianist Teddy Wilson and saxophonist Eddie Barefield suggested that Hines was one of his favorite jazz pianists.
In , after winning an amateur competition, Tatum began playing on Toledo radio station WSPD during interludes in a morning shopping program and soon had his own daily program. As word of Tatum spread, national performers passing through Toledo, including Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson , dropped in to clubs to hear him play.
It made musicians reconsider their definitions of excellence, of what was possible", his biographer reported. By the time that vocalist Adelaide Hall , touring the United States with two pianists, heard Tatum play in Toledo in and recruited him to play in her band,  he took the opportunity to go to New York City.
Tatum's only known child, Orlando, was born in , when Tatum was twenty-four. During the hard economic times of and , Tatum mostly played in clubs in Cleveland, but also recorded in New York four times in and once in the following year. At the end of his first Three Deuces stint, Tatum moved to California, travelling by train because of his fear of flying.
In California, Tatum also played for Hollywood parties and appeared on Bing Crosby 's radio program late in Tatum recorded 16 tracks in August , but they were not released for at least a decade. Tatum was, though, able to make a more than adequate living from his club performances. All of Tatum's studio recordings in were with the trio, and radio appearances continued. Aided by name recognition from his record sales and reduced entertainer availability because of the World War II draft, Tatum began to play in more formal jazz concert settings from  — appearing at concert halls in towns and universities all around the United States.
A fellow pianist from the years after World War II estimated that Tatum routinely drank two quarts 1. Performances at concert settings continued in the second half of the s, including participation in Norman Granz -produced Jazz at the Philharmonic events.
Although Tatum remained an admired figure, his popularity waned in the mid- to late s. Tatum began working with a trio again in Tatum's four-year absence from the recording studios as a soloist ended when Granz, who owned Clef Records , decided to record his solo playing in a way that was "unprecedented in the recording industry: invite him into the studio, start the tape, and let him play whatever he felt like playing.
Granz also recorded Tatum with a selection of other stars in 7 more recording sessions, which led to 59 tracks being released. Following a health warning, Tatum stopped drinking in and lost weight. Tatum and Ruby divorced early in By , Tatum's health had deteriorated due to advanced uremia. Tatum was independent-minded and generous with his time and money. People who met Tatum consistently "describe him as totally lacking in arrogance or ostentation", and as being gentlemanly in behavior.
Tatum was said to be more spontaneous and creative in free-form nocturnal sessions than in his scheduled performances. In after-hours performances, Tatum's repertoire was much wider than for professional appearances,  for which his staples were American popular songs. Saxophonist Benny Green wrote that Tatum was the only jazz musician to "attempt to conceive a style based upon all styles, to master the mannerisms of all schools, and then synthesize those into something personal".
Musicologist Lewis Porter identified three aspects of Tatum's playing that a casual listener might miss: the dissonance in his chords; his advanced use of substitute chord progressions; and his occasional use of bitonality playing in two keys at the same time.
Tatum had a different way of improvising from what is typical in modern jazz. The melodic lines may be transformed into fresh shapes with only a note or a beat or a phrase particle retained to associate the new with the original, yet the melody remains, if only in the listener's imagination.
For critic Martin Williams , there was also the matter of the pianist's sly humor when playing: "when we fear he is reaching the limits of romantic bombast, a quirky phrase, an exaggerated ornament will remind us that Tatum may be having us on.
He is also inviting us to share the joke and heartily kidding himself as well as the concert hall traditions to which he alludes. Prior to the s, Tatum's style was based on popular song form, which often meant two bars of melodic development followed by two more melodically static bars, which he filled with very fast runs or arpeggios. Critic Whitney Balliett commented on the overall form of Tatum's style: "his strange, multiplied chords, still largely unmatched by his followers, his laying on of two and three and four melodic levels at once [ Tatum's approach has also been criticized on other grounds:  pianist Keith Jarrett objected to Tatum playing too many notes,  and others have commented that Tatum often did not modify his playing when in a band.
Tatum was serious at the keyboard, not attempting crowd-pleasing gestures,  and he maintained a calm demeanor. Tatum was able to use his thumbs and little fingers to add melody lines while playing something else with his other fingers;  drummer Bill Douglass , who played with Tatum, commented that the pianist would "do runs with these two fingers up here and then the other two fingers of the same hand playing something else down there.
Two fingers on the black keys, and then the other two fingers would be playing something else on the white keys. He could do that in either hand". Tatum's touch has also attracted attention: for Balliett, "No pianist has ever hit notes more beautifully. Each one [ Vast lower-register chords were unblurred, and his highest notes were polished silver. Among the musicians who said that Tatum could make a bad piano sound good were Billy Taylor  and Gerald Wiggins. Tatum's improvisational style extended what was possible on jazz piano.
And he showed me how to keep my fingers flat on the keys to get that clean tone. Tatum's influence went beyond the piano, however: his innovations in harmony and rhythm established new ground in jazz more broadly. Other musicians sought to transfer elements of Tatum's pianistic virtuosity to their own instruments.
Some musicians were negatively affected by exposure to Tatum's abilities. There is little published information available about Tatum's life. One full-length biography has been published — Too Marvelous for Words , written by James Lester. Critics have expressed strong opinions about Tatum's artistry: "Some applaud Tatum as supremely inventive, while others say that he was boringly repetitive, and that he barely improvised.
In , an MIT student in the field of computational musicology coined the term " tatum ", which was named in recognition of the pianist's speed.
In , a historical marker was placed outside Tatum's childhood home at City Park Avenue in Toledo, but by the unoccupied property was in a state of disrepair. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. American jazz pianist. Main article: Art Tatum discography. More than two-thirds of the pianists surveyed put Tatum at the top of the list.
Gene Lees conducted a similar poll thirty years later, and again Tatum dominated the results. Archived from the original on June 10, Retrieved September 11, Bowling Green State University. The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor. Indiana University Press. Retrieved September 12, Black Music Research Journal. Retrieved January 11, Da Capo Press.
Retrieved May 20, American Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, , doi : Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Radio Times. April 15, The Times. April 19, April 21, October 19, Retrieved October 22, Retrieved October 13, NPR Music.
The Billboard. June 19, July 24, February 17,
Decca matrix DLA 1937. Humoresque (Dvorak) / Art Tatum
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