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Art Tatum

 

 

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Art Tatum was the pianist' pianist.  Not enough can be said of his ability.  He was born legally blind, yet developed extraordinary gifts.  For instance, he was exceptional at quoting sports statistics; he could tell how much beer was in a glass by the sound the glass made when tapped, and he never forgot a voice -- and then there is his piano genius...

        Tatum started as a stride pianist, in the tradition of Fats Waller.  Tatum could reharmonize a song instantly and he had perfect pitch.  Back in Tatum's day, the duel was popular, but nobody challenged Tatum.  He always allowed the other pianist to play first, because nobody dared to follow him.  His songs feature a lot of fast runs used to fill in the gaps in the melody.  He took a lot of freedom with the melody, and often would completely alter the harmonies.  Tatum didn't make a big impression on the public at large, during his life, because he preferred to play in clubs, rather than concerts. He did however, influence some important musicians during his day.  Coleman Hawkins, who was already the premiere tenor saxophonist of the day, supposedly revamped his approach after hearing Tatum.  Charlie Parker, then a teenager, washed dishes in a New York restaurant, just because Tatum was playing there.

        Tatum often played solo, but he did form a trio in 1943 with bassist Slam Stewart and guitarist Tiny Grimes and did a series of recordings with other musicians in the 1950s.   He died in 1956.

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