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Art Tatum: 20th Century Piano Genius

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The 39 performances in this set were informally recorded on two occasions at Ray Heindorf’s Beverly Hills home in 1950 and 1955. There is some party noise from privileged guests, but on the whole the recording quality is surprisingly good. Over two hours of Tatum playing solo on a good piano can, however, prove a bit indigestible, for he serves up very rich fare indeed. It is wise, I believe, to play only a few numbers at a time, and then maybe to go back and play them again to get the full message.

There is no doubt that Tatum is one of the few jazz musicians who deserve to be called “genius.” For non-musicians, and even perhaps non-pianists, his music is too energetically complicated to be easily appreciated. Yet in this program, almost entirely of standards, it is amazing how often the composers’ melodies emerge singing from amid the remarkable harmonies and glittering runs.

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