One of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz music was Art Tatum, whose virtuosity on the piano was perhaps unparalleled. He was a favorite of almost all fellow jazz musicians, as well as such classical greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski.
Arthur Tatum, Jr. was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a guitar playing father and piano playing mother. As a baby, he was afflicted with cataracts, which left him mostly blind for the rest of his life, in spite of surgical intervention. As a child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play the piano play by ear. He attended blind school in the 1920s, and later studied music. Tatum began playing on the radio in 1927, known as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist”, and soon began playing at the local Waiters & Bellman’s Club, where he was a favorite of jazz greats by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Fletcher Henderson. In 1932, Tatum was noticed by the singer Adelaide Hall, who invited him to tour with her. He accompanied her back to New York, where he made his first recordings as a member of her backing orchestra. Not long after, he had his first solo recording session for Brunswick records, cutting the first versions of his famous arrangements of “Tea for Two” and “Tiger Rag”, among others. His subsequent recordings were made for Decca. Tatum remained in New York until the end of 1934, then went back west to the Midwest, and to Los Angeles, appearing on Rudy Vallée’s Fleischmann Hour in 1935. He returned to New York in 1937, and then embarked on the Queen Mary for a tour of England. After returning to the States, Tatum was a hit on 52nd Street throughout the 1940s, and toured around the country frequently. He also participated in concerts and sessions organized by jazz impresario Norman Granz, and was one of Esquire’s 1944 Jazz All-Stars. A chronic alcoholic, Art Tatum suffered kidney failure and died on November 5, 1956.
Brunswick 6543 was recorded in New York City on March 21, 1933. It is Art Tatum’s first issued solo record, and his second and third recorded solo sides. Both are modernistic stride improvisations on old standards.
First up is one of Art Tatum’s most famous performances, his frenetic arrangement of Nick La Rocca’s “Tiger Rag”.
Next up is Tatum’s interpretation of W.C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues”. Brian Rust notes two issued takes of this side, this is “A”.