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Thread: Art Tatum: great jazz pianist or greatest jazz pianist?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by norman bates View Post
    I'm wondering what it's that you consider unexplored or unused. To me he was without a doubt a jazz pianist, and the most interesting part of his pianism was his harmonic knowledge, that really was ahead of its time. But even in his early day I can think of Clarence Profit or Cy Walter who had a similar language (they were friends and they often played together), and talking of harmonically advanced stuff it could be mentioned also In a mist composed by Bix Beiderbecke.
    I don't know if people even understand the depth and breadth of his harmonic genius. Tatum could (and did) sit down at pianos that were out of tune and play them so that all that out-of-tuneness somehow sound perfectly natural and it didn't matter if all the keys were out of tune or only some of them. He didn't find ways to get around the dissonance, he incorporated so that it became a necessary part of the music. Whether an instrument was in tune did not even matter to him.

    The complaint that there are too many notes is, as I said in another post, like complaining that the Three Stooges were too stupid. That's where the genius of the whole system lies. He plays notes SO fast, that were they any shorter in duration they would be imperceptible (this duration is even called "the tatum" because nobody else plays them). But the real shock is that he IS playing notes too short to hear in addition to all the tatums he is interspersing them with. You can only perceive of them subconsciously. If you took those notes too short to hear and stretch them out, they form their own lucid, coherent melodies. Asking Tatum to slow it down would be like asking Dizzy Gillespie to play like Louis Armstrong just because, while you recognize Diz's genius, you prefer Armstrong.

    Another area where Tatum has not been matched is his ability to span incredibly wide lengths across the piano keys. It seems to be superhuman at times. Whether he could really stretch his fingers that wide or had some secret method is the source of some amount of conjecture.



    Even those artists who have learned a bit of Tatumesque playing just copy him--what they can copy of him.

    Tatum used jazz as the current medium to express his ideas but jazz was a plaything to him--a frame but not the painting. His music transcended jazz. Before there was bop, he was already transcending it. What he did with notes, he also did with styles--play them so fast and switch between them before the listener could get a fix on what he was doing. And there was nothing he couldn't play in any style he wanted to. Long before John Cage performed "Williams Mix" (1952), Tatum had already done the same thing on piano and didn't need to write a new piece--he could do it with ANY piece at all.

    The dense blocks of chords he can throw into a short space is not anything I've ever heard duplicated and probably never will. Another thing about Tatum was that he seldom ventured outside the stride piano idiom long after stride ceased to be a relevant force in jazz (if stride can be properly understood to be jazz). He showed little to no interest in updating his sound which would indicate he was not a serious jazz musician. Had he lived longer, he might have started updating but we'll never know.
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  3. #17
    Senior Member padraic's Avatar
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    While his skill was ridiculous, when in the mood for jazz I'd reach instead for Herbie, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Monk, etc.

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    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor Redseal View Post
    His music transcended jazz .
    I disagree about this. He had an original style, but that could be said of many other great pianists, Ellington, Monk, Powell, Nichols, Tristano, Jamal, Evans, Hill, Sun ra, Taylor, Blake and many others (and the same goes for musicians who played other instruments, originality is a big part of jazz).

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    Hi, so you know Umberto Cesari?
    I've been doing a research about him, I'm from Italy and would like to know if and where he is known abroad. How did you get to know him?

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    Senior Member AfterHours's Avatar
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    If you're looking for transcendent talents that changed Jazz history and produced some of the greatest albums of all time (any genre: Classical, Rock or Jazz), then: Anthony Davis, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra are probably the greatest ever (each of them a wholly unique style/synthesis of styles). Myra Melford and Lennie Tristano deserve serious consideration too, among several others that have been mentioned such as Ellington, Monk, Evans, etc.
    "We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time." -- T.S. Eliot

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    People are so right about Art Tatum. Rachmaninoff and Vladimir Horowitz used to go out at night to hear him. One of my favorites is Tatum's awesome performance of Tea for Two. He was better than just a great jazz pianist; he was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time - that places him in a much higher dimension where the immortals dwell on Mount Olympus.

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-06-2017 at 04:55.
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  10. #22
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Piccis View Post
    Hi, so you know Umberto Cesari?
    I've been doing a research about him, I'm from Italy and would like to know if and where he is known abroad. How did you get to know him?
    Sadly I don't think he's well know outside Italy... e io sono italiano.
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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    He is not only one of the greatest jazz pianists, but one of the greatest ever. Horowitz said he'd be out of a job if Art got into classical. His music is kind of boring to me though. The descending right hand runs which sound like glissando's become too repetitive after a while between different songs.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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  13. #24
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    He is not only one of the greatest jazz pianists, but one of the greatest ever. Horowitz said he'd be out of a job if Art got into classical. His music is kind of boring to me though. The descending right hand runs which sound like glissando's become too repetitive after a while between different songs.
    I've always hated that. I definitely prefer to hear a pianist like Duke Ellington, that with his limited technique always played thinking at the tune. Tatum was always showing his technique, and his right hand was most of the time just playing fast ornaments.
    Ellington was a great artist, Tatum a great technician (altough saved by his harmonic creativity).
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    Well, for a start, when people start with the words: 'greatest jazz pianist' there are going to be other contenders; not least of whom would be Earl Hines who was probably the most influential jazz pianist and is a direct line running between ragtime and bebop. His style not only influenced Tatum, but was a model for Monk (who was essentially a stride pianist).

    Tatum was magnificent, but once someone reaches his stature the 'greatness' is always questioned. Most pianists pay homage to him and it's standard etiquette to acknowledge the great pioneers. So when we see someone like Oscar Peterson - who incidentally is very Tatum like - saying Tatum was great/the greatest, we are just seeing gratitude and admiration.

    Tatum's Piano Starts Here was among the first jazz albums I ever heard and all these years later I still think it's fantastic. There's a lot of inventive improvisation, not just empty runs and showmanship. His performance of Willow Weep For Me in that album is superlative.
    Last edited by eugeneonagain; Aug-08-2017 at 23:04.

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    Senior Member Casebearer's Avatar
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    I think most people here are acknowledging Tatums craftmanship while he's not their favorite jazz pianist at the same timel for a lack of emotion in his playing and interpretations. At least I do. Tatums very good but I never feel inclined to play his music.

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