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Art Tatum: Live 1951 Volume 5

Oscar Peterson once told me that when he was playing in Toronto many years ago, head bent over the keyboard, he happened to look up just as Art Tatum entered the club. “When Art walked in,” Oscar recalled, “I walked off. I couldn’t play in front of my god.”

This latest release by Storyville-number five in its projected eight volumes of Art Tatum Live, all including previously unissued material-is divided between New York and Washington, D.C. All the D.C. dates are solo; some of the New York tracks include guitarist Everett Barksdale and bassist Slam Stewart, and they were recorded at the Embers, which in ’51-the year of this recording-was a new club. Willis Conover suddenly materializes to interview Tatum for the D.C. segment, and in New York it’s Leonard Feather’s turn.

At times the CD is frustratingly uneven because the sound levels keep shifting and the Great One has to compete with noisy bartenders and/or rude guests. But through it all, one quality remains constant: the art of Tatum and those seemingly endless, intricate runs, harmonic conceptions decades ahead of his peers, a Waller-inspired stride that hit its mark at supersonic speeds and a sense of humor at the most unlikely places when he interpolated others’ tunes. Of the 21 tunes on this CD, “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body and Soul” sound fresh even when they are repeated.

All this from a hulk of a man who was blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other. Good to know that there is a treasure trove of material still to be mined.

Originally Published