Thursday, February 14, 2008

Art Tatum - A pianist like no other

Great classical musicians speak of the pianism of Art Tatum with the same open-mouthed admiration that lovers of popular music do.
There are very few popular performers who are constantly part of the consciousness of teachers and students alike in the music colleges and conservatories around the world. One of these vaunted few is Art Tatum.
Born with veritably no sight, Tatum is still the measure that all the great popular pianists go by.
From George Shearing to Oscar Peterson to "Fats" Waller to Teddy Wilson; and on and on,without exception, the world-class pianists in the pop field continue to look up to this giant among giants as the Better Man.
The gifts of Tatum are so powerful that even among the great classical artists of our and the previous century, there are words of admiration. Even Vladimir Horowitz, the titan of twentieth century pianism, openly admired Tatum. In another piece which I will write soon, I will relay to you the bond between Horowitz and Tatum.
As one who has taught music at college level, I cannot tell you the number of times the name of Tatum was inculcated into the topic of the moment.
There are many recordings, of course, of this pianist; however, a gripping phase of Tatum's recording history goes back to 1940 and 1941, before Tatum achieved world recognition.
At Columbia University was a student of musicology, Jerry Newman, who had heard Tatum in one of the bars in Harlem, and immediately perceived the immense potential of this performer, who was going from one dive to another, playing for drinks.
Newman approached Tatum in one of these places, and asked if he could record him on a portable wire-recorder. The result is a treasure of performances in these bars in Harlem. At times Tatum was recorded in Newman's apartment on the wire-recorder in addition to those done in Harlem.
I have a recording of these wire-recordings, and they tell us of the Coming Giant, and his ultimate influence on the great performers who followed him. I personally am convinced that Art Tatum was probably, at around the age of fifteen, already without parallel in his pianism. His destination was to polish and build upon this gigantic technique, a style of playing that becomes his vocabulary, known the world over.
See if you can find these recordings from the Newman Archive.

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