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NOTE: Unfortunately there just is not very much live footage available of Art Tatum. The first five videos of the tribute above include live footage. In order to make this a functional radio channel with almost two hours of music, I filled the rest of Art Tatum’s radio channel with audio videos that include picture montages.
Arthur Tatum Jr. was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio. His father, Arthur Tatum, Sr., was a guitarist and an elder at their church where his mother played piano. From a very young age he suffered from cataracts which cause him to be blind in one eye and had only very limited vision in the other. Art was a child prodigy with perfect pitch and learned to play piano by ear. By the time he was three, he was able play tunes on the piano he heard in church, the radio and recordings his mother owned. As a teen, Tatum studied braille and music at a school for the blind and went on to study classical piano at the Toledo School of Music.
In 1927, Tatum was given a time slot as part of a local radio show and billed as “Arthur Tatum, Toledo’s Blind Pianist” and soon after was given his own show. His early influences included James P. Johnson, Earl Hines and Fats Waller. By the time he was 19, Art was performing locally with singer Jon Hendricks at a club in Ohio and when greats like Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong and Joe Turner were passing through they made it a point to go and hear him play. In 1932 he was heard by singer Adelaide Hall and she brought him to New York. In New York Tatum would enter cutting contests against other piano players and easily beat his own early influences James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, as well as Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith. Also in ’32 he made his first recordings including his legendary arrangements of ‘Tiger Rag’ and ‘Tea for Two’.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s Art established himself in jazz circles playing across the country and in England. Also in the 1940s he formed his first trio with bass player Slam Stewart and guitarist Tiny Grimes. In 1953 he signed a deal with producer Norman Granz and record 69 tracks in two days. Only on three of those tracks did Tatum need to play a second take. Also on these recordings was Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton, Ben Webster, Harry Sweats Edison and others. His absolutely amazing talent allowed him to be extremely productive in a short amount of time. Those recordings were sadly cut short, when Tatum passed away from uremia in 1956.
Art Tatum leaves a legacy and virtuosity on his instrument that is matched by very few if any. When Oscar Peterson first heard a recording of Tatum, his father had to convince him that there was only one piano player on the record and when Peterson realized this was true he was so intimidated by that, he refused to touch a piano for weeks. When Hank Jones first heard a recording of Tatum, he believed that at least three people were playing and clearly they had devised some sort of trick to make people think it was just one. Tatum was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989 among other awards.
"First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists." - Dizzy Gillespie
"I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house." – Fats Waller
“Look, you come in here tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I'll do with my left.” – Art Tatum to Bud Powell
“You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!” – Art Tatum
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