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Art Tatum : The Genius

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  • Published on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 17:22
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Art Tatum: The Genius

Fifty Second Street Blues - 3.38
Midnight Melody - 4.01
Gang O'Notes - 2.43
Just Before Dawn - 3.29
Between Midnight And Dawn - 2.49
Apollo Boogie - 2.25
Hallelujah - 2.43
Song Of The Vagabonds - 3.01
Runnin' Wild - 2.55 
Memories Of You - 3.09 
Poor Butterfly - 3.10 
Kerry Dance - 2.30


 Art Tatum: The Genius

Acknowledged by many jazz artists and critics as the greatest pianist of all time, Art Tatum so overwhelmed many of the musicians who played with him that he was often best heard as a solo artist. As a young man in his early twenties, the Ohio native arrived in New York City as the accompanist for singer Adelaide Hall. Fats Waller invited him to a cutting contest in Harlem, where the nearly blind pianist bested not only Waller but James P. Johnson and others with his formidable technique, intricate improvisations and variations on familiar songs. Tatum’s approach to piano blended many different styles, while he was very familiar with classical music as well, counting the legendary Vladimir Horowitz among his fans. Tatum made his first recordings under his own name in 1933, accompanied blues vocalist Joe Turner and led a trio for a time sporadically in the last dozen years of his life, though he continued to record as a soloist. Norman Granz documented Tatum extensively as a solo artist and in various allstar small groups, while also planning to promote him on a national tour of his own. But years of heavy drinking took its toll on Tatum’s kidneys and he died from uremia on November 5, 1956, at the age of just forty-seven.

The dozen tracks from these sessions date from the mid-1940s, originally appearing on the ARCA label. While Fats Waller detested boogie-woogie, Tatum had occasional fun playing his take on the genre, as in his live “Fifty-Second Street Blues,” though it doesn’t have the usual sudden twists and so-called “trick waterfall arpeggios” one associates with him. “Apollo Boogie” is a bit more complex, with sudden twists, demanding chords and inventive runs that no mere mortal boogie-woogie pianist could play. There are plenty of fireworks in the pianist’s “Gang O’Notes,” with elaborate runs that sound effortless. His interpretations of works by others include several favorites. Vincent Youman’s “Hallelujah” was favorite of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s, but Tatum’s intricate reworking of its theme easily tops his pianist competition.“Song of the Vagabonds” has a downtrodden introduction, though after the opening chorus, Tatum shifts gears and turns it into a breezy show-stopper with his magical flight on the keyboard. Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You” was another Tatum favorite, as Tatum takes this timeless ballad for a stroll, incorporating a semi-classical interlude that mixes in his playful improvisation without losing the essence of its melody. Tatum’s take on “Poor Butterfly” omits the verse and goes straight into its theme, played at a brisker tempo than most pianists, while he gives the bittersweet song a more whimsical air. The traditional folk song “Kerry Dance” was often used by Tatum as a final encore when an audience begged for yet one more tune. This version has the weary air of musician ready to leave the stage, though Tatum was well-known for playing his regular booking then seeking out after-hours joints to informally play until sunrise. This collection should be considered essential Art Tatum, particularly since he was infrequently recorded as a soloist during the mid-1940s, besides non-commercial V-Discs and some radio airchecks which have since been issued.
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