"Art Tatum was [one of the two] dominant piano players of the 1930s, astounding everyone with his technique, most especially other piano players, who were convinced he was playing the impossible
" -- Chick Corea, hosting a segment on the largely overlooked Arthur "Art" Tatum, Jr.
If that display of skill and improvisation has you interested, here are a few documentaries about the mostly blind piano man who made other pianists question their instrument choice, yet often left the public at large overwhelmed (or unimpressed): Toledo Stories: The Tatum Legacy
(YouTube, 28 minutes) :: Art Tatum - The Art Of Jazz Piano
(YT, 52 min.) :: Art Tatum: A Talent Never to Be Duplicated
(NPR, audio only, 11 min.) :: Art Tatum, 'The Musician's Musician'
(NPR audio, 54 min.)Hat-tip to Obscure Reference on MetaChat
for sending me down this rabbit hole. The short post, for those who don't click through, says: "When Rachmaninoff heard Art Tatum play
, he said he was the [greatest] pianist in any style." [more
Rachmaninoff wasn't the only classical (or even non-jazz-associated) musician to regard Art Tatum highly. Vladimir Horowitz though highly of Tatum's skill and improvisational abilities
, as seen here whith Horowitz trying to improvise a bit on Tea for Two
, which Tatum first recorded in 1933
(YT), and revisited over the years
(YT, year unknown). And in a 1985 interview (prev
), Jerry Garcia counted Tatum amongst past inspirational musicians
, specifically in the "non-guitarist" category:
Art Tatum is my all-time favorite. Yeah, he’s my all-time favorite. He’s the guy I put on when I want to feel really small [laughs]. When I want to feel really insignificant [laughs]. He’s a good guy to play for any musician, you know. He’ll make them want to go home and burn their instruments. [Laughs.] Art Tatum is absolutely the most incredible musician – what can you say?
A number of articles and write-ups mention a Time Magazine article on Art Tatum, but Time.com now requires a log-in to see beyond the first few paragraphs. Regardless, here are some references: Solo Man
(Dec. 1949); Jazz Package
(May 1952); Swing, with Harmonics
(Dec. 1953). For an earlier period review that is available in full, here is a review of a show from 1935
, from a performance at The Three Deuces in Chicago.
The one thing missing from the few documentaries on Art Tatum are videos of his playing. The audio only tells half of the story, and you could even believe it is a trick recording, made by multiple people (as was often the assumption in Tatum's day, too). Here are two short clips: Humouresque
live, probably on a TV show, and a 1954 TV performance of Yesterdays
, which is a rougher quality version than that seen in The Art of Piano
(at 21:30, if the timecode link worked right).
If you're looking for more audio, you can find some recordings of old 78 RPM records
on Archive.org, and this odd collection of tracks
. Also, there is a LOT on YouTube, posted (and originating) in a variety of qualities, with a whole collection of tracks from YouTube user BluesInOrbit
(note: UMG limits access to some tracks by country, but many are still accessable). Art's discography
(incomplete fan-made listing at Discogs) is lengthy, and made larger by epic 10-disc + 1DVD collection of private recordings
), from the collection of Arnold Laubich, a guy who literally wrote the book on Tatum's recordings
. The other book on Tatum is his his biography: Too Marvelous for Words
(Google preview). It's not too inclusive regarding Tatum's life, due to the scant information Tatum shared with people while he was alive.