Archive | August, 2013

The Greatest Jazz Pianist Ever

13 Aug

Art Tatum article by Joe Paice

(Here’s a short tribute I wrote to Art Tatum on 13th October 2006)

Today is Art Tatum’s birthday. He was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1910 and is widely considered the greatest jazz pianist of all time.

A mighty technician himself, Oscar Peterson, tells how as a young pianist in Canada, his dad felt he was getting big-headed and so played him a recording of Tatum. Peterson was impressed by what he thought was a duet between two top-flight jazz pianists, and was horrified to learn it was just one man playing –

“I gave up the piano for two solid months, and I had crying fits at night.”

For a wonderful account of Art Tatum’s effect on the great Harlem stride pianists of the 1920’s and 30’s on first hearing him play, visit:

The extract is from Ed Kirkeby’s book on Fats Waller (Kirkeby was Fats’ personal manager).

Perhaps because of his extraordinary prowess, Tatum has never been a very direct influence on subsequent pianists in the way that Bud Powell or Bill Evans were later. However, he was ahead of his time harmonically and rhythmically and did influence other instrumentalists like Don Byas and Charlie Parker. Some of his style can be heard in pianist like Peterson, Billy Taylor and the wonderful Hank Jones – all still mercifully with us.

Anyone with large bundles of cash lying around idly, should invest in Tatum’s solo Pablo recordings made in the 1950’s (Tatum died in 1956). Apparently, they simply turned on the recorder and called out tunes to him and everything was captured in pristine, incredible first takes – some 120 songs (it is also a marvellous testament to the golden age of American songwriting).

Art Tatum is one of those people about whom I can get very boring, so I’ll stop now.

Joe Paice