Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909, Tatum was nearly blind by the age of four. Not to be deterred and fueled by his passion for , Tatum later used special glasses to read and eventually used Braille.
He attended the Toledo School of but, for the most part, is a self-taught .
Tatum, noted for his astounding dexterity on the , is one of those musicians who are either revered as a genius or dismissed. Those that heralded him for his musicianship cited his nimble and fast musical phrasing.
The same supporters held him up as the “newer and better” stride , overshadowing the legendary Fats Waller.
Critics of Tatum brushed his musicianship off as too ornate or “flowery” and therefore not ‘authentic’ .
Hired as the house . All three musical icons were amazed by the speed and virtuosity of Tatum’s playing. in Toledo clubs when he was only nineteen years old, the young pianist got the opportunity to sit in with master musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and
Art eventually found success in New York in 1937 and garnered notoriety on radio programs and famous . players of the day with the
Aside from being an amazing , he also loved cards and drinking, the latter of which would create health issues that would claim his life at the young age of forty-seven.
Although Tatum flourished in what is considered the era, he did not fit the mould stylistically. Nevertheless, Tatum had a significant impact on beboppers like Charlie Parker and also mentored future superstar Oscar Peterson.
Despite his controversial reputation,
Here are some essential Art Tatum songs and albums to have in your collection.
“Tea For Two”
For better or worse, every successful will have a that becomes their flagship.
In this ’s case, that is “Tea For Two.” Listen to YouTube anthology of his renderings of the in 1933, 1939, and 1953.
In the 1933 recording, is on full display. Note his lightning-fast styling coupled with his in-the-pocket style. The is a powerhouse of energy, finesse, and beauty. You can hear where Charlie Parker sourced his phrasing as well as Oscar Peterson.
The 1939 recording showcases maturity in “less is more” at the start while his nimbleness on the keys is ever-present. As if knowing the end of his life neared, the 1953 recording is Tatum at his best.
Art weaves in and out of easy-flowing phrases into like solos with such grace that one wonders what he could have accomplished as a if he had lived longer.
This tour de force recording, released in 1933, became another classic. The begins slowly with Tatum showcasing his chordal theory.
Like a tiger released for a hunt, the takes off moments later. As you listen, notice how Tatum makes the sound like a one-man band: rhythm section and soloist rolled into one.
So adept at this ability that after listening to “Tiger Rag,” famed keyboardist Hank Jones reportedly asked who the other two pianists were with Tatum!
“Starts Here” (1933)
This re-release (1968 on Columbia Records) captures Tatum in his young years, displaying fantastic stride technique and improvisational skills.
Performing as a , this iconic album features some of ‘s timeless classics like “Tea For Two” and “Tiger Rag” and eleven other excellent recordings.
This vintage recording captures Tatum bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Everett Barksdale near the end of his illustrious career. with an all-star of
The eighteen tracks, recorded in New York at Cafe Society, Birdland, and Bandbox, have him accompanied by guitarist Everett Barksdale and Slam Stewart on upright bass.
Students of should study his three renditions of the classic ballad “Tenderly.”
“– The Tatum Solo Masterpieces”
This 1974 release is for the serious Tatum fan!
Recorded for RCA Records, this behemoth collection of songs captured Tatum in his late prime from 1953-1955.
Tatum covers jazz standards like “Body and Soul,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Begin the Beguine,” and many, many more.
Whether you’re a student or simply a fan of the instrument, jazz pianist Art Tatum is a musical force worth investigating.
He was a master who fanned the flames of future performers while pushing the boundaries of notably, accomplished all of these while battling blindness and negative comments from critics.
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!