Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Art Tatum: Tatum Art

Art Tatum had the ability to scare people, especially other pianists. The first time a young Oscar Peterson was played an Art Tatum record, he refused to play piano for months, feeling he could never measure up to Tatum’s level. When Hank Jones initially heard Tatum’s 1933 recording of “Tiger Rag,” he asked who the three pianists were.

The 10-CD set Tatum Art (Storyville) mostly contains material that was previously unreleased until recently. The first nine CDs have been released individually by Storyville during the past couple of years, so this box is recommended to listeners who have not already acquired those discs. Dating from 1934-46, the material was mostly recorded privately, featuring Tatum in concerts, at clubs, on the radio and at parties. All of the music is listenable though not always technically up to the level of studio recordings. In addition to the many dazzling unaccompanied solos and numbers with Tatum’s trios, there are cameo appearances from Les Paul, Tal Farlow, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Coleman Hawkins. The 10 CDs are joined by a DVD that features Tatum on clips from the March of Time newsreels, The Fabulous Dorseys and a remarkable version of “Yesterdays” from The Spike Jones Show in 1954.

Oscar Peterson scared his share of musicians too, starting during 1945-49 when he was one of Canada’s top jazz pianists. Discovered by producer Norman Granz, who presented him as a “surprise guest” at a JATP concert, Peterson at first recorded duets with bassist Ray Brown. The limited-edition seven-CD Mosaic set The Complete Clef/Mercury Studio Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio (1951-1953) could have been called The Complete Studio Recordings of the Oscar Peterson/Barney Kessel/Ray Brown Trio. Other than an easy-listening date with Irving Ashby on guitar and a set in which drummer Alvin Stoller makes the group a quartet, all of the 116 performances are by the Peterson-Kessel-Brown group. While many of these numbers were part of melodic songbook projects dedicated to the music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Vincent Youmans, six are exciting 11-12 minute workouts on standards designed to take advantage of the length of the LP, and there are several rare examples of Peterson singing, sounding remarkably close to Nat “King” Cole, his main influence as both a singer and a pianist.

Originally Published