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Greatest pianist who ever lived,
This review is from: The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (Audio CD)
The history of jazz piano after Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton -Earl Hines, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Al Haig, Herbie Nichols, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Cecil Taylor, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett- is an orphan without Art Tatum. Tatum was the greatest piano player jazz ever produced.
His weakness for sentimental standards became immaterial in the light of his phenomenal technique and seemingly infinite capacity for intricate improvisation. He would explore all the imaginable ramifications of a simple idea with flamboyance, and then delicately embellish them with elaborate ornaments. The sheer density of his notes led cynics to regard his playing as excessive and the result of an overdeveloped formula, and sceptics to doubt everything they were told until they saw him perform.
Tatum's first recording of "Tiger Rag" in 1933 completely subverted the song's original rhythmic structure, introduced new harmonies, and built complex ornaments around the melody... at twice the original tempo. Stéphane Grapelli heard the song in France in the year of its release and asked who the "pianists" were; the record dealer told him "Art" and "Tintin". Toscanini was once an hour late to his own performance in New York because he was stupefied listening to Tatum in a club.
Tatum was a gregarious introvert and an alcoholic. He spent almost all his time in the company of others, playing in small clubs until the early hours of the morning. Norman Granz had the insight in the early fifties to record Tatum in a series of group settings and on his own. The seven discs that make up the Pablo solo recordings contain some of the most astonishing piano playing anyone is ever likely to hear. And some of the most beautiful.