Brunswick 6543 – Art Tatum – 1933

Art Tatum in the 1940s. Pictured in the 1944 Esquire Jazz Book.

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”.

Tiger Rag, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

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”.

St. Louis Blues, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

Blue Note 2 – Albert Ammons – 1939

Albert Ammons and Meade "Lux" Lewis. From Jazzmen, 1939.

Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis. From Jazzmen, 1939.

On September 23, 1907, 109 years to the day before this posting, the boogie woogie piano great Albert Ammons was born.

Ammons was born in Chicago to piano playing parents, who passed on the art to him at a young age.  He developed his barrelhouse style with his close friend Meade “Lux” Lewis, taking notes from Hersal Thomas and Jimmy Yancey.  In the 1920s, both he and Lewis were working as taxicab drivers, and began playing together as a duo.  Ammons started a band in 1935, and recorded for Decca  with his Rhythm Kings in 1936.  On December 23, 1938, Ammons appeared in John Hammond’s concert, From Spirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall, celebrating the history of jazz from spirituals to swing.  The event featured Count Basie’s orchestra with Hot Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing, the Golden Gate Quartet, bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry, and fellow boogie woogie pianists Pete Johnson, and Meade “Lux” Lewis, to name a few.  The concert created a surge in the popularity of boogie woogie, with Ammons at the forefront, and he worked quite extensively throughout the following decade, culminating with his performance at Harry S. Truman’s inauguration in 1949.  After a period of illness, Ammons died on December 2, 1949.

Blue Note 2 was recorded on January 6, 1939 in New York by Albert Ammons.  It was Blue Note’s second release, from the new record label’s first recording session, held in a rented studio.

Ammons recorded his famous “Boogie Woogie Stomp” previously in 1936 for Decca with his Rhythm Kings, but that version, in my opinion, lacked the same kind of driving energy that characterizes this solo recording.  A truncated version of the piece (which Ammons recorded for the Solo-Art label) was used in Norman McLaren’s 1940 animation Boogie Doodle.

Boogie Woogie Stomp

Boogie Woogie Stomp, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.

On the other side, Ammons improvises “Boogie Woogie Blues”, demonstrating his formidable ability as a pianist.

Boogie Woogie Blues

Boogie Woogie Blues, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.

Wilcox-Gay Recordio – Unknown Artist – c.1950

UPDATE:  Diligent experts have identified these tunes as “Down Yonder” (first side), and “The Waltz You Saved For Me” (second side).  Thank you, for your great assistance, Messrs. Chalfen, Johnston, and Bosch!

Here’s another home recording that I found along with that old time fiddle one, it features two very familiar sounding, and quite enjoyable piano solos whose names I cannot seem to place.  I’m hoping someone out there can help me identify the names of the pieces being played.  If any of you treasured readers out there can put a name with them, I’ll update the article with special thanks.

This Wilcox-Gay Recordio home recording disc is completely unmarked, making it impossible for me to offer any information on its artist or date.  The copyright date of 1950 would likely place it in that vicinity as far as dating goes.  As is often the case with these home recordings, sound quality is on the low end, and there is quite a bit of noise, but these aren’t too bad, all things considered.

This side sounds especially familiar to me, but I just can’t put my finger on the title.  At first I though it was “Waiting on the Robert E. Lee”, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit that tune.

Thanks to a reader’s identification, this tune seems to be L. Wolfe Gilbert’s 1921 composition “Down Yonder”.

Unidentified

Down Yonder, recorded ? by unknown pianist.

This little ditty, too, sounds quite familiar, but again, I just can’t quite think of the title, if I ever knew what is was called.  Some talking can be heard in the background of this one at one point.

Unidentified

The Waltz You Saved for Me, recorded ? by unknown pianist.