He had perfect pitch and came from a musical family. He was virtually blind but that did not stop him from reaching the pinnacle of piano jazz. Art Tatum's piano technique was all his own. As a child he learned compositions by ear listening to recordings, piano rolls or the radio. He often had no idea that he was copying in two hands a musical performance by four hands. In time his skills made him a magician at the keyboard. Here is Tatum's famous 1933 rendition of Tea For Two:
And a bit more up-tempo, here is the master of improvisation with the tune, Tiger Rag, also recorded in 1933:
When you have enjoyed jazz for fifty years and listen to Art Tatum you'll hear Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Johnny Costa and many others as Tatum dances effortlessly across the keyboard. He was so good, his legacy in music may be timeless. In fact, the great stride pianist, Fats Waller, once said upon seeing Tatum enter the club where Waller was performing, "I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house."
|Tatum at the Vogue Room, New York, 1948|
Tatum was born on this day in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909 and died in Los Angeles in 1956. He was 47.
wikimedia.org, William Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress