Art Tatum!

It has just been called to my attention that this is the birthday of Art Tatum (1909-1956). Before the day expires, at least in my time zone, here is one of the few instances of Tatum’s being caught on film. The clip is from the 1947 movie The Fabulous Dorseys. It finds the great man in a jam session with his peers—as if he had any. This may not be the most stunning Tatum ever recorded, and he gets only one chorus of a fast blues, but we see as well as hear the pianist who awed his contemporaries, including Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubenstein. Tatum’s colleagues are identified in the opening frames.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    Fats Waller said, “God is in the house”, and everybody knew who Fats meant, and why.

    I’ll say this: When you’re listening to Tatum, you feel like God is with you, and it’s also awe- inspiring.

  2. says

    During one of the last years of Tatum’s life, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet (with Brookmeyer) played opposite Tatum at the Red Hill jazz club in Pennsauken NJ. Art had lost a lot of weight and looked smaller than he had when I saw him some years before at Birdland, but his hands were still in great shape, and he dazzled us with those three-finger runs up and down the keyboard. His time was still perfect, and his touch sublime. Brookmeyer sat down at the piano for a tune during our set, and later said, “The keys seem to work better after Art plays on them.”

  3. Red Sullivan says

    George Van Eps (also in this scene, if my memory is correct) was, undoubtedly, “The Art Tatum of the Guitar”.

    • says

      Now that you say it, Red: And so, Charlie Barnet was “The Coleman Hawkins of the … big band leaders” … err, at least could he imitate his master very well 😉

      There are only two or three real-life film clips with Art Tatum. They are discussed HERE.

      The flick containing the jam session clip Doug posted from 1947 (BTW quite a fairy tale) can still be ordered for a bargain on the internet.

      There is also an LP entitled God Is In The House, featuring the rarest Art Tatum ever, playing on upright pianos with missing keys after hours in Harlem between 1940 & 1941.

      No, Art of course never missed them, they just weren’t there. But Jerry Newman was, and waxed some of the highest Art of Tatum in action.

      Did you know that God can sing the blues? Go for this very LP, and check it out.

      P.S. —

  4. George Ziskind says

    I’ve related this previously online: Around age 15 I was in a high school rehearsal band. After a rehearsal (the leader’s dad managed a recording studio atop Chicago’s Civic Opera Building and we rehearsed there), I stayed behind to explore the delights of their Steinway “D”. An elderly janitor with pushbrooom sidled up to me and said “Ever hear of Art Tatum?” The following day I went to the Hudson-Ross record store and took that glorious Decca album of Art on three 78s (Elegie, Sweet Lorraine, etc.) into the listenhing booth.

    Needless to say my musical life had been changed forever.

  5. Ken Dryden says

    There are a couple of of videos of Art Tatum solo performances floating around on the web, a few of which appear in the Storyville boxed set. This version of “Yesterdays,” which I don’t recall being clipped in the DVD in the boxed set, comes from a 1954 appearance on The Spike Jones Show.

    Here’s a link to my review of the Storyville boxed set Tatum. Be aware that the video disc has to be played on a computer. It won’t work in a standard DVD player. I don’t know why the version of “Humoresque,” which he also played on The Spike Jones Show, was omitted from this set.

    • says

      From this video clip I finally realize the enormity of “God’s” hands. Thank you for this Ken.

      For the dedicated pianist there are 2 piano books of Tatum solos published by Hal-Leonard. They are the Jazz pianist’s answer to the Chopin Etudes and are of equal difficulty in terms of the required virtuosity to perform them; however, one needs to listen to all the Tatum solo cds plus rare clips like this to get the “feel” for the swing.

      At age 16 during one summer, I studied with Stan Freeman. His first assignment was to learn a Tatum transcription, one for each lesson! That, plus the copying/listening of Teddy Wilson solos gave me the foundation I needed to become a solo jazz pianist.

      Sixty four years later I’m still working on my “calling” and still listening to “God” speak.

      • David says

        In one of his early memoirs, Andre Previn tells of hearing Tatum playing “Sweet Lorraine” on the radio and running out to buy the sheet music, only to be baffled at finding just a simple pop tune. He eventually figures out that Tatum must be playing his own arrangement and transcribes it, but something still isn’t right. Finally he realizes, “Oh, he’s making it up as he goes along.”
        Someone posted a similar story about Vladimir Horowitz on youtube: Horowitz approached Tatum and proudly proclaimed that he had finally managed to learn one of Tatum’s solos. Tatum replied, “Sure, you know how, but you don’t know why.”

    • says

      Hi Ken —

      Thanks for the CD tip. Alas, really, I wanted to keep my mouth shut about this… Anyway, “Tea For Two” in A major? Really? *All* folks play it in Ab as far as I know.

      As I said it somewhere else: Don’t the producers of such compilations own a tuning fork, or don’t they hire at least a musical advisor who knows about the eternal, and with many CD releases perpetuated pitch problems?

      The very same goes for the unfortunately disappeared clip with “Yesterdays” you’ve posted above: No one would play this song in Db-minor, it’s still in D-minor.

      Maybe I’m nitpicking here, but a halftone is a completely different world, musically spoken.

  6. says

    Thanks to Brew for adding the link to my New England Public Radio blog entry on Tatum. There I included the video of “Humoresque;” the “Art of Jazz Piano” documentary; and an even rarer documentary about Tatum’s background in Toledo which was produced for an Ohio public television series about the city. It includes tributes from many including Itzhak Perlman who says Tatum “slew me” when he happened upon a jazz radio station playing Art.

    • says

      You’re heartily welcome, Tom, it’s been a pleasure. By the way: “Humoresque” is correctly running in Eb 😉

  7. Jim Brown says

    There’s nice but brief taste of Tatum on film from 1943 with his trio on the “Piano Legends” DVD narrated by Chick Corea. VAI 4209