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4.6 out of 5 stars
Piano Starts Here
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2004
Format: Audio CD
When I was in college and studying piano, I chanced upon this album on an old Columbia LP. I could not believe my ears, then, and am still stunned by the playing on here now. What Tatum does is nearly impossible, both as a musical and as a technical concept, juxtaposing each hand moving independently of the other to create massive, swirling collages of sound. When Tatum's first solo records (reproduced here) first appeared in 1933, he was accused of using a second pianist on the sessions!

The remainder of these cuts come from a concert in 1949, when Tatum was at the very peak of his powers. Several of these pieces were re-recorded for Norman Granz's Clef label a few years later (now reissued on Pablo CDs as "The Tatum Solo Masterpieces"), but these versions are even more spontaneous and exciting. This version of "Yesterdays," in particular, inspired me to attempt to play it, a venture I soon discovered impossible once I got past the intro into the swirling figures!

Tatum was often accused of playing superfluous runs and arpeggios, especially for white or mixed audiences, in order to add unnecessary "flash" to his playing. There is certainly some truth in this statement. In his few surviving live recordings before audiences in all-black clubs, Tatum plays less floridly, more inventively at times, than he does here, but that is like accusing a world-class gymnast of waving his arms in the air as he or she sticks their landing...this would in no way detract from the beauty or originality of the routine itself. Tatum's elegance, and eloquence, may not be greatly helped by his glassy runs, but if one accept them for what they are the essential core of his genius is still apparent.

This CD reissue is vastly superior to the original LP release as it totally eliminates the artificial "stereo" sound considered so chic in those days. Highly recommended!!
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Toledo,Ohio,October 13,1910: the nightmare of all piano players,I mean classical or jazz piano players,is born.Art Tatum,the most talentuous pianist of all times,was born and after he became blind,started to learn piano.Adelaide Hall,Duke Ellington's singer in the late twenties,found him during a tour and brought him in NYC.And the nightmare started.Year 1933.Art was in the Big Apple,and intended to eat it completely.And he did.Horowitz,Rubinstein,Toscanini came to some obscure Harlem's clubs to listen to him.If he had the possibility to record some tunes of Bach or Chopin,he would have killed everybody.There are two quotes that are very interesting: the immense Thomas "Fats" Waller,playing one night in a club,said something like "I'm here playing tonight,but God's in the house" as Tatum was sitting before the stage;and Tatum saying,sorry I don't have the original words,that he'd like to play like Teddy Wilson;maybe the greatest tribute for one of the most discreet musicians.
This too short CD proposes four tracks (1-4) recorded in NYC,1933,when Adelaide Hall brought him;among them,"Tiger rag",maybe the most terrific thing I ever heard.Tatum plays the tune at a terrifying speed,and offers us some of the most incredible stride piano playing.The Nightmare begins to eat the Big Apple,and nothing will stop him.
Tracks 5-13 were recorded in 1949,At the Shrine Auditorium,Los Angeles;every interpretation is superlative.Anton Dvorak's "Humoresque" can let you think how great Tatum could have been if he had the opportunity of playing classical music."Tatum pole boogie" is the most horrific way to play a boogie.Or the best way to decide you to cut your fingers."the kerry dancers",who was also played by Johnny Griffin,shows Tatum playing a weel known irish ballad.This is the shortest track of this cd,but not the last one."the man I love" is a lesson of swing and the mark of the greatest piano player.
Art Tatum sadly died November 5,1956,aged 46.All of his records are essential,but this one is the only one in which you can hear Tatum playing live in a big hall.Really,a must to have.
c
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2003
Format: Audio CD
I just picked up this album a few days ago after hearing numerous good things about it. After popping in the cd and sitting down to take it all in, it is very hard to say what exactly took place. I had heard Art Tatum was a great player, but that is actually an understatement. Amazement, Bewilderment and Befuddlement is all i can remember feeling after hearing "Tiger Rag". But that feeling doesnt stop at just that one track, every single track is incredible and almost unhuman. From the pristine runs to the complex chordal changes, the man absolutely blew me away with his playing. He is without a doubt a very special individual who needs to be heard by anyone who loves jazz or music in general. His creative genius is parallel with very few people, Coltrane being the person in my mind who seems to come close (But not quite there!). Although he never composed any of his own material, the standards that he plays are so elegantly played and touched with his genius that it is hard to imagine them played any other way. PLEASE, LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM. I BEG YOU. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED and at 12 dollars it is a bargain. If this album was priced at 50 dollars, i would probably still pay for it without any regrets. It will be a beloved part of my music collection and I hope you will listen to it and enjoy it as much as i do.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 1998
Format: Audio CD
This CD is a terrific introduction to the genius of Art Tatum, perhaps the greatest Jazz pianist ever. It's all here; brilliant technique, wonderfully complex variations, simple and playful melodies, all played by the quickest and most nimble fingers to touch ivory. Sometimes happy and exhuberant, other times beautifully heart-wrenching, but throughout the CD there is not a note out of place and not an instant where the playing is anything less than magnificent. This CD is a must have for those starting out their collection, or introducing themselves to Tatum, or for anyone who enjoys exquisite Jazz piano....
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 1999
Format: Audio CD
The first four cuts are from Tatum's first recording date as a leader in 1933, and the rest are from a concert in LA in 1949. Sound quality is good for that era. The performances are superb and often beyond belief: when Oscar Peterson first heard Tiger Rag, his response was, "Hm. Those guys are pretty good." This CD is only 36 minutes long, but Tatum didn't always have the recording opportunities he deserved, so let's enjoy these 36 mintues of the man in his prime!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2006
Format: Audio CD
This album offers a good cross-section of Art Tatum's solo piano style, including ballads and up-tempo pieces recorded in the 1930s and 40s.

Listening to Art Tatum's masterful performances these past 30 years, something strikes me as odd: I have yet to hear him make a mistake, not even a minor technical misstep in one of his lightning-quick arpeggios. Listen to his rendition of I Know That You Know, and marvel as we all have. What he accomplishes at those speeds, however, is incomprehensible. That alone might validate the legendary comment which the great Fats Waller spoke when, upon seeing Tatum in the audience at one of his concerts, stood up to proclaim, "Ladies and gentleman, I play the piano. But God is in the house tonight."

Ironically, three decades later when Oscar Peterson was a guest on the Merv Griffin Show, Griffin introduced him by echoing those words.

Peterson, however, who is far and away the greatest living jazz pianist and successor to Tatum's prodigious technique, makes mistakes. I know, small potatoes. Everyone makes mistakes. The fact that I've never heard one from Tatum after 30 years continues to amaze me.

Every Peterson performance is driven by his patented, relentless insistence on rhythm. The overpowering pulse that flows--or, more accurately, marches--through his Bosendorfer, is the primary force behind his playing, as he has often noted. Obviously, Tatum relies on rhythm as well. But where Oscar shouts his use of rhythm, Art's application is remarkably subtle and in service to his overall performance, not at center stage. This lends a delightful buoyancy and effortlessness to his playing, even at tempo. He spares you his labor and provides the gift of music in its purest form, leaving the listener in a state of sublime perplexity thinking 'My God, how can a human being possibly do this?!'

He accomplished these feats through nature's bequests and rigorous, classically oriented study of the instrument from a very young age. Because Tatum was born in 1909, when recorded sound was in its infancy, recordings of him as a youth don't exist. However, many people who heard him play in his formative years believed his technique to be virtually complete from the beginning.

Peterson has often related a story from a period in his teens when he confidently believed he was the greatest piano player around. One day his father arrived home with a recording of Tatum's Tiger Rag (included on this disc). After the younger Peterson listened to it, he refused to believe only one person was playing the piano. When his father finally convinced him, he didn't touch a piano key for months. Peterson once compared Tatum to a lion: "It's beautiful and you want to get up close to it, but it's a little frightening." Eventually the two became good friends, and when Peterson, a Canadian, heard that Art was dying, he flew out to Los Angeles to be with him at the end.

Perhaps most astonishing, Art Tatum--an intelligent and eloquent man with a great sense of humor--was blind almost from birth, suffered various medical afflictions throughout his short life (he ate irregularly, drank excessively, and succumbed to uremia in 1956, at the age of 47), and he lived in an era when African-Americans were treated more lowly than second-class citizens. Nevertheless, he raised the bar of instrumental performance so drastically that even 50 years after his death, no other musician has been able to approach it. Simply put, he possessed the ability to take any thought whatsoever and express it on a piano. Even in his final months, people marveled at his playing. Musicians as well as musical scholars universally consider Tatum to be the greatest improvisational musician who ever lived--on any instrument. Any competent pianist understands why listening to him is at once elating, and frightening. When Art Tatum sat down in front of a piano, he didn't become the piano. The piano became him.

I'm grateful for the gift of Art Tatum's music. Listen closely to this record and you'll understand why.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2005
Format: Audio CD
This is undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz albums out there. The pure genuis of Tatum is simply astounding. Although Tatum plays almost all standards on this album, he plays them in his own woderfully complex and creative style in a manner that makes his versions unbeatable. Anyone who thinks that Monk was the greatest jazz piano player of all time better pick this up and go to school. His version of "Tea For Two" is still considered to be the standard by which all versions are measured by. "Tiger Rag" is played so unbelievably fast and complex that it sounds like there are three pianists playing at the same time! Every song on this album is a gem so pick this one up A.S.A.P. You will not be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2006
Format: Audio CD
From all I've read and heard, when jazz musicians first heard this guy play it was like a collective "NOW what are we supposed to do?" went up in the air. Tatum upped the ante so radically that it took about a decade for everyone to catch up(he is considered an early inspiration for the bebop movement, Charlie Parker himself saying that he wished he could play "...like Tatum's right hand.").

Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson are the offspring of Tatum's genius. All the others- from Monk to Evans to Hancock- merely stand in awe of him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2010
Format: Audio CD
Always very interesting to come across someone who is less than impressed by Art Tatum. Though to me (and most other musicians and artists, especially his contemporaries) the man was one of those rare geniuses who come along every few generations. There are few "genius" types (in any field of human endeavor) who didn't engender controversy, or became overnight pop stars in their own lifetime. Such people are just too dense, too deep in their perception and insight to be grasped in casual passing - and our pop culture sensibilities demand instant gratification in casual passing (perhaps while multi-tasking). Genius makes extreme demands of its audience, takes them way out of their comfort zone. Everybody "gets", say, Michael Jackson (may he rest in peace). But only a relative handful will ever be able to "get with" Art Tatum. That's just the nature of the game. This is not a knock on "julian symes" or others who feel like him. He is obviously a sincere and informed student of the art form. And I applaud his candor. My first experience of Art Tatum way back in my youth was similar. Some years later, when I decided to study music a little more seriously than what it took to play at a college dance or local rock festival, I "re-discovered" Art Tatum. And like so many other artists and afficianados who first "encounter" him, I was shell-shocked! He was beyond belief. People who think it's just a man with incredible manual dexterity (as I did when I first heard him) entirely miss the point, miss his "genius". This was no "novelty" act (lots of people can play fast, even a computer can "play" fast). Music - "serious" music, at least - is an intellectual endeavor, a knowledge system (and this concept, too, is difficult for most laypersons to grasp - but we can thank pop culture for that). And I soon realized (my second go-round) this was a man whose knowledge and mastery of the western system of music in general, and the piano (that most fundamental, majestic, and complex instrument of them all) in particular, was immense. Of course, there are others whose knowledge of our system of music is equally as vast. But Tatum's real genius was in how he could call upon this huge inventory of musical components and concepts (harmony, rhythm, dynamics, etc.), on the spot even, to create a musicality that at its best can only be described by such terms as "ethereal." He was like a painter whose paintings show a mastery of all the color formulas and brush techniques employed by all the masters that came before him or her, but with an entirely original outcome...The fact that Tatum was more or less uncompromising in his artistic vision (and what true genius is not) almost assured he'd never be a "pop star", or even a modest commercial success...There's no shame or embarrasment in not "getting" Tatum. Like a James Joyce or an Einstein, he is way over our heads. But if you dare to stick a toe into the waters in which the immortals tread, a post on these pages by a "samuel chell" proffers a fine approach to obtaining at least a basic sense of Art Tatum's genius. Even then, you still may not "like" him, but you might get an appreciation of the difference between "genius" and "great" (or "popular"). And for those who want to believe that the great Oscar Peterson was just being modest in his worship of Tatum, get the book "Too Marvelous For Words" (available on Amazon, no doubt). It's a quick and easy read, and you'll get a better sense of this man's impact on the music world - jazz and classical - and his contemporaries. The only other artist I've ever heard referred to as "god" by his own contemporaries (at least in music) was Franz Listz. Must be lonely up there on Mt. Olympus.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
The jazz novice speaks again: Don't let the superlatives (from these amateur reviewers or some of Tatum's contemporaries) compel you to look for flaws that everyone else must have missed. You're not going to find them. While I'm still not experienced enough to confirm that Tatum was indeed the best jazz pianist that ever lived, I can say that he is the best I have ever heard. Of course he can master the fundamentals of his pieces- most of the greats can. What sets him apart from everyone else I have ever heard are the textured and varied nuances he adds to just about every piece on this album and the breakneck, breath-taking speed at which he does it. Speed, of course, can be cheap- just another trick up a second-rate musician's sleeve to cover his sloppiness or the inability to find the soul of the piece. Tatum found the soul, but with a wink.

How great is Tatum? In his hands, "Tea for Two" is as deep and complicated as Monk's "Eronel", "How High the Moon" goes from a favorite jazz standard to a revelation and "Yesterdays" and "Someone to Watch Over Me", both so often smothered with overstylization, are stripped down such that their original intents can shine through.

Sadly, speed means just that- the CD feels like it's over in half an hour. The silver lining is that you have that much more time to listen to it again and again.
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