Skip to main content

Tatum, Art

Art Tatum

Pianist

Overcoming Early Handicaps

Local Jobs Follow Early Training

Welcome to New York

California Choo Choo

The Trio Years, Dry Spells

Tatums Recorded Legacy

Selected Discography

Sources

Much about the life of legendary pianist Art Tatum remains ambiguous: his birth date; the cause of his blindness; the musicality of his parents; his exact niche as a musician; his association with classical musicians; and his ability to play as a group member. However, upon listening to the recorded artistry of this genius, it seems clear that his immense talent has made him one of the greatest pianists ever heard. Virtually every jazz pianist active today, whether knowingly or innocently, owes some debttoTatum who, in the 1930s, transformed jazz pianos lexicon for all time. Indeed, major players of other instruments trace their development to having listened to the new concepts Tatum brought to the keyboard. Jazz critic/writer/producer Leonard Feather has called Tatum the greatest soloist in jazz history, regardless of instrument.

Overcoming Early Handicaps

The Tatum family in 1909s Toledo lived in a small, but tightly-knit black community. Accounts from friends, neighbors and even family members differ as to the degree of musicality of Arthur, Jr.s parents. Yet, their support of his consuming interest and training is un-doubtable. All agree that at a tender age the oldest Tatum child demonstrated a remarkable ability to listen to tunes heard in church or elsewhere and to pick them out on the well-maintained family piano. In all probability, basic lessons from his mother ensued, closely followed by formal training in specialized schools.

The cause of Tatums visual handicap has never been clearly established. The pianists major biographer, James Lester, in his Too Marvelous for Words, examines the facts and tales that have come from friends and family. Included are stories of normal birth, impairment due to early bouts of measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria, development of thick cataracts, and exposure of his eyes to bright sunlight by his mother. Lester is persuaded that the cataracts probably developed from the diseases and that, through a long series of operations, limited sight was restored by about age ten. Then, at about age 20, Tatum was mugged on the street, resulting in total loss of sight in one eye and perhaps 75 percent in the other. Tatum, who often joked about his eyes or made up stories of his athletic prowess, refused to allow these conditions to detract from the pursuit of his main interest. Furthermore, throughout his life he maintained an active interest in sports and card playing.

Local Jobs Follow Early Training

Tatums phenomenal ear for melody and pitch served him well as he began his lifelong habit of listening

For the Record

Full name, Arthur Tatum, Jr.; born October 13, 1909, in Toledo, OH; died November 5, 1956, in Los Angeles, CA; father was a factory worker/mechanic and played some amateur piano; mother was an amateur pianist, violinist; son, Orlando, born 1933; married Ruby Arnold August 1, 1935; divorced, February, 1955; married Geraldine Williamson, November, 1955.

Began with lessons at home, followed by more formal studies at Jefferson School for the Handicapped in Toledo and School for the Blind in Columbus; later at Toledo School of Music and privately with Overton G. Rainey; played at church, neighborhood functions and local clubs, c. 1924-25; formed own small band, 1926; own WSPD radio program c. 1927; jobbed around Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland, 1928-32; went to New York as accompanist to vocalist Adelaide Hall, 1932; first recordings, 1932; established reputation in New York clubs and on recordings, 1932-35; in residence at Chicagos Three Deuces, 1935; moved to California, 1936; successful trip to London, 1938; formed famous trio, 1943; continued touring, recording, 1943-1956.

Awards: Esquire Gold Award, 1944; Silver, 1945; Metronome poll, 1945; Down Beat Critics poll, 1954, 1955, 1956.

intently to all forms of music. Along with his unerring ear, Tatum developed an acute memory that aided him not only in his musical progress, but in many practical ways. He attended Jefferson School in Toledo, where he studied Braille along with regular subjects through eighth grade. In 1925, instead of enrolling in Toledos Woodward High School, he moved to the School for the Blind in Columbus, where he studied violin and guitar as well as piano and probably Braille music reading.

Throughout these school experiences the young Tatum performed whenever and wherever he could. Through diligent application, constant listening and playing, at school and neighborhood functions, in local Prohibition era speakeasies and clubs, Tatums unusual skills attracted the attention and admiration of a growing number of musicains. Cornetist/writer Rex Stewart, in his Jazz Masters of the Thirties, partly explained Tatums dexterity: Heconstantly manipulated a filbert nutthrough his fingers, so quickly that if you tried to watch him, the vision blurred. He worked with one nut until it became sleek and shiny. His dazzling speed and touch caused his private teacher, Overton G. Rainey, to urge Tatum to pursue a classical career. But jazzs sounds, particularly those of pianist Fats Waller, captured Tatum. Moreover, a career on the concert stage for a young black musician was virtually beyond hope in the 1920s. I n later years, however, Tatums playing was much admired by such classical pianists as Leopold Godowski and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Toledos WSPD radio gave Tatums reputation its major impetus beginning in 1927, when he filled in between bits of shopping information. Impressed with the youngsters skills, the management scheduled Tatums own 15-minute daily broadcast for approximately the next two years. Already his style was becoming formed so that not only the brilliant runs and arpeggios caught listeners attention, but Tatum exhibited a fertile cre-ativeness that made full use of his ambidexterity. This allowed him to depart from the popular stride timekeeping or simple chords with his left hand, while introducing far more complex rhythms and harmonies. Abetted by his classical training, his incessant listening to pianists and other players, his near-perfect aural memory, and his constant marathon playing sessions in after-hours clubs, Tatums musicianship demanded a wider audience.

Welcome to New York

Adelaide Hall, a popular vocalist, heard Tatum in 1932, offered him a job as her second accompanist, and brought him to New York. (Here again we find conflicts in witnesses stories of exactly when and how the two met.)The pianist was able to memorize her complicated scores instantly. Though this relationship must have been musically unrewarding for Tatum, he was given an increasing role in her show and remained with Hall for about two years.

Having waited to test his skills against the name players in New York, Tatum lost little time in finding the various after-hours clubs where piano challenges became monumental battles. He sought out the best players and, revealing a combative streak and showing no mercy in demonstrating his superiority in session after cutting session. Customarily, he would wait until the other pianists had shown their best, then proceed to outplay them, often quoting what he had just heard then embellishing it with his fast, fresh variations.

Biographer Lester tells of the welcoming committee from hell that greeted Tatum after his first 1932 New York appearance with Hall. The reigning kings of jazz piano, Fats Waller, Willie the Lion Smith and James P. Johnson, invited Tatum to a session the following night. By all accounts, the Toledo youngster ascended to the pinnacle that evening, never to be dethroned. As writer Robert Doerschuk reported mentor Wallers words: That Tatum, he was just too good. He had too much technique. When that man turns on the powerhouse, dont no one play him down. He sounds like a brass band.

This craving to play nightly for hours following his regular job, taking on all pretenders, remained a regular part of Tatums routine. Invariably, until near the end of his life, this gamesmanship was accompanied by heavy drinking. Many witnesses claim that Tatums best playing was done under these conditions, not in the recording studio or on the concert stage.

In spite of his combative tendency, however, the lore is replete with tales of Tatums generosity in helping younger players and even in his taking much time to work with other professionals who simply observed him or who asked for playing tips. Composer/pianist Mary Lou Williams told Whitney Balliett, Tatum taught me how to hit my notes, how to control them without using pedals. And he showed me how to keep my fingers flat on the keys to get that clean tone. The young Billy Taylor, pianist and renowned jazz educator/writer, was another beneficiary. Hehasstated, Art Tatum was probably the most lasting influence on my development as a jazz pianist.

California Choo Choo

For some months after leaving Hall, Tatum held forth at New Yorks famous Onyx Club. In early 1935 Tatum returned to performing in the Cleveland area, then was hired in September, 1935, to play at the Three Deuces club in Chicago for an extended period. Here he had contact with the great pianist Earl Hines and bassist Milt Hinton among others. In 1936 Tatum moved to Los Angeles where his reputation had preceded him. He played at the Paramount, the Trocadero, the Melody Grill and Central Avenues Club Alabam, was welcomed by celebrities at private parties, and appeared on Bing Crosbys radio show.

After about a year in California, Tatum again played Chicagos Three Deuces for about six months, then set up residence at 52nd Streets Famous Door in New York. This began an irregular pattern for several years of traveling by train between Los Angeles, Chicago and NewYork. InMarch, 1938, he made his only trip abroad, to England. Much to his dismay, Tatums American club audiences were often noisy, whereas those in England behaved like concert listeners, a reception the pianist tried to cultivate wherever he went. For about the next five years, Tatum centered his playing in New Yorks better restaurants such as Cafe Society and Kellys Stables. These audiences were attuned to Tatums wizardry and listened accordingly. In the long term, Tatum sprinkled in visits to a wide variety of cities, sometimes performing in his second favorite venue, the concert stage.

The Trio Years, Dry Spells

In 1943 the great soloist surprised the jazz world by forming his ground-breaking Art Tatum Trio, with guitarist Tiny Grimes and bassist Slam Stewart. This group began simply by jamming at Lovejoys Chicken Shack in Los Angeles then toured and recorded together intermittently for several years with a variety of personnel. Everett Barksdale principally replaced Grimes, and Stewart moved in and out of the group. The Trio, though preceded by about four years by the Nat King Cole Trio, proved to be a model for the Oscar Peterson and Lenny Tristano trios. Unfortunately, from 1945-1952 Tatum recorded very little in the commercial studios. Moreover, playing opportunities in general were not plentiful. This barren period coincided with the advent of bebops popularity.

Even though Tatum had long-since pioneered in the utilization the chord substitutions, the long eighth and sixteenth note runs and the harmonies used in bop, he was regarded by the public and some musicians as old hat. However, the leading lights of bebop, such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, altoist Charlie Parker and pianist Bud Powell are widely quoted as having had great respect for the master. As Lester quotes Gillespie: First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists.

Tatums Recorded Legacy

From a recently uncovered trial solo pressing of Tiger Rag in 1932 to a monumental series produced by Norman Granz, Tatum has left us ample recorded testimony of his greatness. The first released records with Tatum were those he made with Hall in August, 1932. His first solo recordings, Tea for Two, St. Louis Blues, Tiger Rag and Sophisticated Lady, made in March, 1933, were greeted with awe by the music fraternity. From this point on, though with notable time lapses, Tatum was recorded in a wide variety of settings including with his own small combos and all-star groups, but primarily as a soloist. Arnold Laubach and Ray Spencers Studies in Jazz, No. 2 lists 629 issued performances on 224 different labels from 19 countries. The most memorable group of these was conceived by recording executive Norman Granz, originator of Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts and recordings, which began in December, 1953.

Granz sequestered Tatum in a studio with a good piano, and in two days had produced 70 solo tunes, most of them on the first take. I n the ensuing months of 1954-56, leading up to Tatums death, the output reached 121 solo cuts. In addition, Granz arranged for some group sessions that realized 80 tunes by quartets featuring such stars as reedman Benny Carter, vibist Lionel Hampton, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, tenor saxist Ben Webster, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and drummers Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson. Of these recordings Schuller observed, Even the least of these belong to Tatums mature work, and the best of them may be numbered amongst his very finest life-long achievements. These late performances show that Tatum was growing musically to the very end. In the notes accompanying the issuance of these recordings, Granz wrote, the most important and satisfying work I ever had was the Tatum project I think, if I am ever remembered for any meaningful contribution to jazz it was presenting permanently for the future the incredible artistry of the greatest instrumental soloist in the history of jazz, Art Tatum. Granz was happy to have completed these before Tatums death in Los Angeles of uremia, on November 5, 1956.

Critics are almost universal in their praise of Tatum through the years. Many have attempted to describe the Tatum style and sound. For example, Whitney Balliett describes his technique as prodigious, even virtuosic an angelic touch: no pianist has got a better sound out of the instrument gargantuan arpeggios, oompah stride basses. No matter how fast he played or how intense and complex his harmonic inventions became, his attack kept its commanding clarity. But it is his fellow pianists and other musicians who remain his staunchest admirers. These artists include Fats Waller, Jimmy Rowles, Dave Brubeck, Red Norvo, Marian McPartland, Oscar Peterson, DickHyman, Lenny Tristano, Bud Powell, and the elegant pianist Teddy Wilson, who observed, Maybe this will explain Art Tatum. If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum play everyone there will sound like an amateur.

Selected Discography

An Art Tatum Conce/t.Columbia LP, 1949.

Giants of Jazz: Art Tatum, Time-Life LP, 1982.

Piano Starts Here, Columbia LP, ND.

The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces; Volumes 1-8, Pablo CD, recorded 1953-55, released 1992.

The Tatum Group Masterpieces; Volumes 1-8, Pablo CD, recorded 1954-56, released 1991.

Sources

Books

Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Chilton, John, Whos Who of Jazz, Time-Life, 1978.

Collier, James Lincoln, Benny Goodman and the Swing Era, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Feather, Leonard, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz, Bonanza Books, 1965.

Laubach, Arnold and Spencer, Ray, Studies in Jazz, No. 2, Scarecrow Press, 1982.

Lester, James, Too Marvelous for Words: The Life & Genius of Art Tatum, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Rust, Brian, Jazz Records 1897-1942, 5th Revised and Enlarged Edition, Storyville Publications, 1982.

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Spellman, A. B., Giants of Jazz: Art Tatum, Time-Life, 1982.

Stewart, Rex William, Jazz Masters of the Thirties, Macmillan Co., 1972.

Periodicals

Down Beat, March 1992.

Keyboard, October 1981.

Mississippi Rag, April 1994.

New York Times, November 6, 1956.

New Yorker, September 9, 1985.

Robert Dupuis

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatum, Art." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Tatum, Art." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tatum-art

"Tatum, Art." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tatum-art

Tatum, Art

Art Tatum (tā´təm), 1910–56, American jazz pianist, b. Toledo, Ohio. Born with cataracts in both eyes, Tatum remained virtually blind for life. He read music in Braille, but his sensitive ear for music made reading almost unnecessary. Tatum, an unmatched piano virtuoso and brilliant improviser, developed a style characterized by complex musical embroidery, such as rapid runs and shifting rhythms.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatum, Art." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Tatum, Art." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tatum-art

"Tatum, Art." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tatum-art

Tatum, Art

Tatum, Art (Arthur) (1910–56) US jazz pianist. Almost blind since birth, Tatum established a standard for solo jazz piano technique. He made his first recording in 1932. His reputation for technical virtuosity endures.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatum, Art." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Tatum, Art." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tatum-art

"Tatum, Art." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/tatum-art

Tatum, Art 1909–1956

Art Tatum 19091956

Jazz pianist

At a Glance

Relocated To New York City

Traveled Overseas

Art Tatum Trio

Recorded For The Verve Label

Selected Discography

Sources

Idolized by jazz instrumentalists and lauded by musicians such as Vladimir Horowitz and composer George Gerschwin, jazz pianist Art Tatum possessed a name synonymous with genius. Like trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Tatum had an impact on the entire strata of jazz instrumentation. As A.B. Spellman observed in the liner notes to Giants of Jazz, Art Tatum, Tatum was blessed with fingers that moved almost as fast as his endless stream of ideas. Tatums repertoire consisted primarily of a few original compositions, popular songs, jazz standards, and concert music pieces by such composers as Antonin Dvorak and Jules Massenet. Despite gaining popularity with a trio during the 1940s, Tatums numerous solo performances still awe listeners and represent some of the finest music of the twentieth century America.

Arthur Tatum Jr. was born partially blind on October 13, 1909, in Toledo, Ohio. Tatums father, Art Sr., a mechanic, and his mother, Mildred Hoskins, were members of the Grace Presbyterian Church. Art Sr. played the guitar and Mildred played the piano. Family members later recalled three-year-old Tatum playing melodies on piano. Tatum studied violin and later, around age 13, took up the piano. He learned to read Braille at Toldeos Jefferson School. In 1924, 15-year-old Tatum attended The School For the Blind in Columbus. As Tatums biographer, James Lester, asserted in Too Marvelous For Words, Clearly, the Tatums wanted to do everything they could for their son, and the move to Columbus was made easier by the fact that a cousin was there who would keep tabs on him. In 1925 Tatum enrolled at the Toledo School (Conservatory) of Music where he studied with a classically trained African American instructor, Overton G. Rainey. At home he listened to a wide range of music including jazz piano rolls and recordings of concert pianists.

With end of his formal education in 1927, 16-year-old Tatum embarked on a professional music career in the jazz idiom which offered creative and lucrative opportunities. As Lester wrote, Within jazz [Tatum] could improvise a career, make a career out of improvising, invent a path for himself, take advantage of fast-changing musical developments, and even influence the course of those developments. He first played in local dance bands, and around 1927 won a local amateur contest which led to his regular appearance on Toledo radio station WSPD. The broadcast was eventually picked up nationally on NBC Blue Network.

At a Glance

Born Arthur Tatum October 13, 1909, in Toledo, Ohio; died November 5, 1956; son of Arthur Sr. (a mechanic) and Mildred Hoskins; married Ruby Arnold, August of 1935; children: Orlando (by Mar-nette Jackson). Education: Toledo School (Conservatory) of Music.

Career: Won amateur contest which led to appearance on WSPD radio, 1927; worked clubs and speakeasies in Toldeo and Cleveland; moved to New York City in 1932 as accompanist for singer Adelaide Hall; Onyx Club, soloist, 1933; recorded for Brunswick label, 1933-34; performed in Cleveland, 1935; appeared on the Fleischman Hour radio program, 1935; performed at Three Dueces in Chicago and formed a small band at the club, 1936; played Los Angeles clubs and Hollywood parties, 1936-37; performed and recorded in Los Angeles and New York City; toured England and recorded for Decca, 1938; played Los Angeles and New York, 1939-40; hit record, Wee Wee Baby Blues/ formed trio, 1943-45; concert stage debut, 1945; continued to play concert dates until mid-1950s; recorded for Verve records 1953-56.

Awards; Esquire jazz popularity poll 1943; Esquire gold medal, 1945, silver medal, 1947.

Tatums weekday fifteen minute show sometimes featured his playing duets with another young pianist, Teddy Wilson. In the liner notes to Giants of Jazz, Art Tatum, Wilson recounted that Tatum already employed, flatted fifths and all the added tones, and improvising these wonderful progressions in the middle of a tune.No other pianist had, even remotely, that conception of playing.

Tatums employment in Toledo speakeasies and premiere nightclubs allowed him to work out the music he had formally learned by instruction and by listening to records and radio. Even as a teenager Tatum astounded fellow musicians. Noting Tatums impact on musicians, Benny Green stressed in The Reluctant Art, Tatum shattered everyone; Tatum caused all other musicians to lose confidence; Tatum terrified those who thought they knew how far jazz could be taken. In 1929, the father of the tenor saxophone Coleman Hawkins, then a member of Fletcher Hendersons Orchestra, heard Tatum at a small Toledo club and immediately incorporated the pianists harmonic ideas into his playing. Around this time, Duke Ellington encountered Tatum in Cleveland and encouraged him to move to New York City.

Relocated To New York City

Tatum went to New York City in 1932 as the accompanist for singer Adelaide Hall. He recorded four sides with Hall and toured with her, until landing jobs as a solo pianist in New York City. His first visit to New York, recounted Duke Ellington in his memoir, Music is My Mistress, stirred up quite a storm. In a matter of hours, it got to all piano playersand musicians who played other instruments, toothat a real Bad Cat had arrived. Not long after his arrival, Tatum agreed to meet Harlems three leading pianistsJames P. Johnson, Willie The Lion Smith, and Fats Wallerat Morgans, a Harlem bar with a suitable piano. Pitted in a piano battle against these musical giants, Tatum, overwhelmed his challengers. Looking back on that evening Waller confessed, as quoted in Fats Waller,That Tatum, he was just too good.He had too much technique. When that man turns on the powerhouse dont know one play him down. He sounds like a brass band. Tatum had bested his rivals and thus established himself as one of the greatest pianists on the New York City jazz scene.

In 1933 Tatum played the Onyx Club on 52nd Street. In March of that same year, he recorded his first official solo session, which included Tiger Rag,Tea For Two, St. Louis Blues, and Duke Ellingtons Sophisticated Lady. In assessing these first sides recorded for the Brunswick label, Leonard Feather, in the liner notes to Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, observed The characteristics that were to remain Tatums trademarks until the day he died were already evident: the incessantly creative left hand, now striding, now playing four different chords to the bar; the use of substitute chords and unprecedented harmonic subtlety; the sixteenth note runs at tempos that gave most pianists trouble maintaining an even flow of eighth notes.

Traveled Overseas

In 1938 Tatum left for England on the Queen Mary, and played a three month engagement in various English clubs and appeared on the BBC. As Lester explained in Too Marvelous For Words, Arts appearances in England were not concerts, but the quiet attentiveness of the audiences made them something closer to concerts than anything Tatum had experienced at home. By 1938 Tatums music began to be transcribed and notated in publications, and his bookings resulted in residencies at various clubs. His recordings for Decca included Jules Massenets Elegie (1938) and eighteen numbers in 1939, including Get Happy and Atonin Dvoraks Humoresque. His 1940 output for Decca included a more popular version of Humoresque,Cocktails For Two, and Begin the Beguine.

Between 1939 and 1940 Tatum worked in New York City and made frequent trips to Los Angeles where he made seventeen sides for Decca. A recently issued live recording, Art Tatum, California Melodies, captures the pianist in a series of Los Angeles (KHJ) broadcasts that aired from April to July of 1940. Tatums recordings from this weekly program is perhaps the most valuable and historically important addition to [Tatums] recorded legacy, noted Stephen C. La Vere in the liner notes to California Melodies.

Art Tatum Trio

During January of 1941 Tatum recorded a Decca session under the title Art Tatum and His Band, a small pickup group including blues vocalist Joe Turner. The session produced four numbers including the big-selling number, Wee Wee Baby Blues. The success of Wee Wee Baby Blues prompted another recording session with Turner, and in June of 1941, four sides were cut, including Corrine Corina. His next commercial recordings did not emerge until 1943, when he won Esquire s first jazz popularity poll. Without steady bookings as a solo artist, Tatum looked to other opportunities to support himself; in 1943 he formed a trio with guitarist Tiny Grimes and bassist Leroy Slam Stewart. The trio, observed Lyons in The Great Jazz Pianists, was celebrated for the inventive communication among the players as well as for Tatums blistering speed, as they achieved a unity of sound that was rare at any tempo. Tatums 1944 recordings were entirely made up of his trio work. During 1945 he appeared on the radio, attended only two studio sessions, and finally decided to quit working in a trio format.

At end of the Second World War in 1945, observed Lester in Too Marvelous For Words, Tatums standing and reputation were established beyond challenge, but his popularity, primarily due to the emergence of bebop, faded seriously in the remainder of the 1940s. Tatums music did not follow this modernist jazz trend, but it did have profound influence on its leading musicians, like Charlie Parker who, for one year, washed dishes in a Harlem restaurant just to listen to Tatums playing in the front room, and bebop piano genius Bud Powell idolized the keyboard master from Toledo.

In the spring of 1949 Tatum performed at Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. That same year, Tatum signed with Capitol Records and recorded several critically acclaimed numbers. He made his concert stage debut in 1945, and subsequently played a circuit of university and community halls across the country, while continuing to play club and concert dates into the mid 1950s, including San Franciscos Black Hawk Club in 1955, nd the Hollywood Bowl in August 1956.

Recorded For The Verve Label

In 1953 Tatum signed with Norman Granzs Clef/Verve label, for which he recorded over 120 piano solos. Discussing Tatums recorded repertoire that included many of the seme selections, Lyons, noted that, even during the 1950s, he rarely repeated himself in his treatment of material. His harmonic variations were startling, especially when he soloed. Where another pianist might go directly from one chord to the next, Tatums left hand would walk crablike through a cycle of four to six new chords between the original two. Meanwhile, his right hand would spin out a web of interconnecting lines of thirty-second notes.

Apart from his solo wordings the Verve label recorded Tatum in several small group settings with jazzmen such as Benny Carter, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, vibra-phonist Lionel Hampton, and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. His session with Webster, recorded in September of 1956, is considered by most critics as the finest of these small group recordings. In his review of The Art Tatum-Ben Webster Quartet for Jazz Review, critic Dick Katz, stated, as reprinted in the book Jazz Panorama, how Tatums and Websters respective conceptions complement each other beautifully.Art Tatum and Ben Webster represent to me a kind of romanticism in jazz which has now itself become classic. Theirs is a an artistry rarely matched in any era of jazz.

But this session would be Tatums last. For years Tatum, a heavy beer drinker, had, later in his life, suffered from diabetes. By the mid 1950s he fell ill with uremia. He died in Queens Hospital in Los Angeles, on November 5, 1956. In tribute to the keyboard master, Leonard Feather wrote, in the liner notes to Art Tatum the Piano Starts Here, How many frustrations Tatum had to suffer during his forty six years, none of us can ever quite know. He was black in a society that awarded honors to white musicians with a tenth of his talent. But Tatums legacy is one of a committed brilliant musician. Not long ctfter Tatums death, Benny Green, wrote in his collected work of essays, The Reluctant Art, that Tatum has been the only jazz musician to date who has made an attempt to conceive a style based upon all styles, to master the mannerisms of all schools and then synthesize those into something personal. In the liner notes to Giants of Jazz, Art Tatum, Spellman also emphasized that Tatum conceived a style based on all stylesNo one more than Tatum summarized the art of his generation, and no one more than he pointed the way to the generation of pianists who followed him.

Selected Discography

Giants of Jazz, Art Tatum, Time-Life, 1982.

Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, Columbia, 1995.

The Complete Brunswick.l931-1941 (box set), Affinity.

Art Tatum, Classic Early Sides (1934-1937), Decca, 1991.

Art Tatum Solos (1940), Decca, 1990.

Art Tatum, California Melodies, (ree 1940) Memphis Archives, 1994.

Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces Vol. I-Vol. 8, Pablo.

The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces, (box set) Pablo.

Art Tatum Group Masterpieces Vol. I-Vol. 8, Pablo.

Art Tatum Twentieth Century Genius, Verve, 1996.

God is in the House, High Note, 1998.

Art Tatum Selected by Hank Jones, Verve, 1999.

Art Tatums Finest Hour, Verve, 2000.

Sources

Books

Ellington, Edward Kennedy, Music is My Mistress, Da Capo, 1973.

Green, Benny, The Reluctant Art: Five Studies in the Growth of Jazz, Da Capo, 1992.

Jazz Panorama: From The Pages of The Jazz Review, Collier Books, 1964.

Lester, James, Too Marvelous For Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lyons, Len, The Great Jazz Pianists, Da Capo, 1983.

Waller, Maurice, with Anthony Calabrese Fats Waller.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to Giants of Jazz, Art Tatum, Time-Life Records, 1982; Art Tatum, California Melodies, Memphis Archives, 1994; and Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, Columbia, 1995; and from the films The Famous Dorseys, 1947; and Jazz, (episode four: A True Welcome ), 2000.

John Cohassey

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tatum, Art 1909–1956." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Tatum, Art 1909–1956." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tatum-art-1909-1956

"Tatum, Art 1909–1956." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tatum-art-1909-1956