Friday, June 1, 2018

A Deeper Look Into the Phantasmal Imagery Created by Pianist Art Tatum...

It has been related to us that on an occasion when a conversation took place between Art Tatum and the brilliant jazz pianist Bobby Short, Art Tatum, with a smile,  replied to a statement made by Short "look, you come here  tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I'll do with my left."
Now, to me, it is irrelevant as to whether this statement is or is not apocryphal  - the power of these words was  indeed discussed among musicians during this period primarily because of the pandemic nature of awe that performers possessed of the indescribable attainment of Tatum's technique. For instance; in the nature of the "left hand" in jazz performance, the usual arrangement is for the majority of activity, both melodic and improvisational,  to be borne by the right hand, with the left hand supplying the rhythm, harmony  and occasional passage work. In short, we hear most of what we call 'technique' being represented by the right hand. In the case of Tatum, however, we hear, essentially for the first time in pop playing, a dramatic increase in the role of the left hand to a point where it is recognized that Art Tatum possessed a technique that was equal in both hands. Just listen to a few of the Tatum recordings primarily to observe the role the left hand has in the arrangements, and it becomes a reality that Art Tatum did in jazz what we expect and receive in the music and performances of the great classical pianists since the 1700's.
Stride piano - you know ; the "oom-pah" activity done in real earnest from "Fats" Waller right on through today- namely, that one lower  note struck first, followed by a chord both in  the left hand, usually at a moderate to fast tempo, depending upon the nature of the tune involved... Well, in the case of Art Tatum, we hear, from time to time, a stride piano consisting not of that first single lower  note, but a complete chord of three or four notes, followed  above by that  now second  chord, all in the left hand, at times at a dizzying pace of  up to several chords per second. Tatum applied this technique from time to time(listen to his "Tiger Rag") for short periods, before returning to the traditional method of Stride Piano. No other pianist could do this . It takes the level of the playing of Oscar Peterson, in our time, to replicate this staggering height of physical technique, and is but one of a series of achievement levels  that attracted the likes  of a Horowitz, or a  Rachmaninoff, or  a Toscanini, let alone other great classical artists.
To encapsulate: listen not only to the  obvious brilliance we attach to a Tatum performance, but do 'peer' behind the curtain of this giant to listen for more of what he left us, which has, in my opinion, not yet  been equaled...

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