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Adam Makowicz: A Tribute to Art Tatum

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Is there a movie lurking here? Consider this. In the mid-1950s Adam Makowicz was a classical pianist living in Poland. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, the young pianist hears an Art Tatum recording. It’s a moment of epiphany. “Angels’ music,” Makowicz exclaims excitedly. It’s also a moment fraught with danger. Indeed, Tatum’s music has been plucked from the ether in a broadcast emanating from the outlawed “Voice of America.” Compounding the intrigue is the fact that in Poland, jazz is forbidden. Nonetheless, the music’s freedom and Tatum’s inspired virtuosity impress the young Makowicz to the point that his life is forever changed.

Cut in 1997, in a recording studio, Makowicz pours out his pianistic paean to the giant who led him to jazz and a new life in America. Although we’ll have to wait for Hollywood to flesh out the details of the story, here, we have an homage in which the music more than tells the tale. As annotator Mike Joyce notes in his liners, “Tatum’s impact on Makowicz was swift, profound and irreversible.” Unfairly, that asset has been turned into a liability by some who have confused influence with imitation. By any standard, Makowicz is brilliant. And while the legacy of Tatum resonates deeply, so too does Makowicz. Indeed, whether tossing off “Just One of Those Things” or tripping blithely with “Jitterbug Waltz,” Makowicz is magical!