Personalities | Art Tatum | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

(Piano, 1909–56)

In the arms race of virtuosity that drove jazz in the 1930s, no player was more dazzling than Art Tatum. The piano had a history of virtuosos, but none approached the levels of sheer athletic aptitude that Tatum tossed off with such nonchalance. It came so naturally that he often seemed bored by his own wizardry, hurtling through a procession of sharp contrasts in tempo and style that changed every few bars, under a hail of arpeggios that dropped like confetti.

Tatum, born in Toledo, Ohio with only partial vision, came out of the stride tradition but extended it in so many directions as to create a comprehensive keyboard vocabulary that continues to astonish. His solo showpieces, such as ‘Tiger Rag’, were intended to intimidate if not terrorize, and in the 1930s he was heard on record and radio mostly in a solo setting. But he was a consummate ensemble player, working with a trio in the 1940s. In the 1950s he recorded a huge body of solo and ensemble work for Norman Granz.

Styles & Forms | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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