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Art Tatum : Piano Solos 1933-1934

Art Tatum - Piano Solos 1933-1934

Tea For Two - 3.13
St. Louis Blues - 2.38
Tiger Rag - 2.19
Sophisticated Lady - 3.16
Moonglow - 2.41
I Would Do Anything for You - 2.56
When a Woman Loves a Man - 3.03
Emaline - 2.38
Love Me - 2.56
Cocktails For Two - 2.49
After You've Gone - 3.01
I'll Wind - 2.57
The Shout - 2.50
Liza - 2.48


 Art Tatum

Piano Solos 1933-1934

(all tracks have been previously issued and compared against my comprehensive Tatum CD/LP collection, using the Arnold Laubich/Ray Spencer discography as well)

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 piano solos in this collection represent some of Art Tatum’s earliest recordings. The lightening-quick arpeggios and elaborate runs in his lively take of “Tea For Two” were startling, while the influence of stride is apparent as well. Tatum recorded many versions of this standard, but this is his first. “St. Louis Blues” has long been a staple of jazz musicians, but no version is more elaborate and inventive than Tatum’s dazzling interpretation. The mad dash through “Tiger Rag” is one of the pieces Tatum chose to best the top Harlem pianists during their famous cutting contest upon his first visit to New York City, played at a blinding tempo. To prove that he wasn’t a slouch at ballads, he delivers an elegant rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” though adding at bit of glitter to her with his decorative runs. Several of the songs Tatum chose have fallen into obscurity, including Victor Young’s “Love Me,” and Gordon Jenkins’ “When a Woman Loves a Man” (the latter which was later recorded by vocalists like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee) though the pianist’s more subtle interpretations of these ballads merit reviving them. Tatum’s lively romp of Frank Perkins’ “Emaline” didn’t save the song from oblivion, though he would later record the composer’s much better known standard “Stars Fell on Alabama.” While Tatum had plenty of fun with “Cocktails For Two” and the song is indelibly associated with him, it didn’t become a staple in his repertoire. The standard “After You’ve Gone,” penned by the early African-American Broadway songwriting team of Turner Layton and Henry Creamer, was waxed by Tatum on several occasions, with this subdued, swinging take being his first. Harold Arlen’s bittersweet ballad “Ill Wind” was popular for its time but became out of fashion. Tatum again displays his more introspective side, though he can’t resist a few theatrics in the middle of his performance; mostly he lets the piece’s lyrical side to shine. “The Shout” is one of Tatum’s few recorded compositions, a virtuoso romp in a swinging setting, seemingly drawing from several standards in his vast repertoire while retaining its own identity. Finally, his show-stopping romp through George Gershwin’s “Liza” delighted its composer, who heard Tatum on numerous occasions in various clubs and once hosted a performance by the blind pianist in his apartment.

1. Tea For Two (Vincent Youmans/Irving Caesar)

2. St. Louis Blues (W. C. Handy)

3. Tiger Rag (D. J. LaRocca/Harry DeCosta)

4. Sophisticated Lady (Duke Ellington)

5. Moonglow (Will Hudson/Eddie DeLange/Irving Mills)

6. Love Me (Victor Young/Ned Washington)

7. When a Woman Loves a Man (Gordon Jenkins/Johnny Mercer/Bernard Hanighen)

8. Emaline (Frank Perkins/Mitchell Parish)

9. Love Me (Victor Young/Ned Washington)

10. Cocktails For Two (Arthur Johnston/Sam Coslow)     

11. After You've Gone (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer)

12. Ill Wind (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)

13. The Shout (Art Tatum)

14. Liza (George Gershwin) 

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