62 Facts About Art Tatum


Art Tatum extended jazz piano's vocabulary and boundaries far beyond his initial stride influences, and established new ground through innovative use of reharmonization, voicing, and bitonality.


Art Tatum grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where he began playing piano professionally and had his own radio program, rebroadcast nationwide, while still in his teens.


Art Tatum left Toledo in 1932 and had residencies as a solo pianist at clubs in major urban centers including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.


Art Tatum was said to be more spontaneous and creative in such venues, and although the drinking did not hinder his playing, it did damage his health.


Art Tatum's popularity diminished towards the end of the decade, as he continued to play in his own style, ignoring the rise of bebop.


The couple had four children; Art Tatum was the oldest to survive, and was born in Toledo on October 13,1909.


Art Tatum was followed by Arline nine years later and Karl after another two years.


Accounts vary on whether Art Tatum's parents played any musical instruments, but it is likely that he was exposed at an early age to church music, including through the Grace Presbyterian Church that his parents attended.


Art Tatum began the piano at a young age, playing by ear and aided by an excellent memory and sense of pitch.


Art Tatum learned tunes from the radio, records, and by copying piano roll recordings.


Art Tatum first attended Jefferson School in Toledo, then moved to the School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio, late in 1924.


Art Tatum identified Waller as his biggest influence, while pianist Teddy Wilson and saxophonist Eddie Barefield suggested that Hines was one of his favorite jazz pianists.


In 1927, after winning an amateur competition, Art Tatum began playing on Toledo radio station WSPD during interludes in a morning shopping program and soon had his own daily program.


Art Tatum frequently played for hours on end into the dawn; his radio show was scheduled for noon, allowing him time to rest before evening performances.


Art Tatum began to play in larger Midwestern cities outside his home town, including Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit.


Art Tatum played his arrangements of "Tea for Two" and "Tiger Rag".


Art Tatum's only known child, Orlando, was born in 1933, when Art Tatum was 24.


Art Tatum performed on national radio, including for the Fleischman Hour broadcast hosted by Rudy Vallee in 1935.


In California, Tatum played for Hollywood parties and appeared on Bing Crosby's radio program late in 1936.


Art Tatum recorded for Brunswick again near the end of that year.


Art Tatum performed there for three months, and enjoyed the quiet listeners who, unlike some American audiences, did not talk over his playing.


Art Tatum recorded 16 sides in August 1938, but they were not released for at least a decade.


Informal performances of Art Tatum's playing in 1940 and 1941 were released decades later on the album God Is in the House, for which he was posthumously awarded the 1973 Grammy for Best Jazz Performance by a Soloist.


Art Tatum was able to earn a more than adequate living from his club performances.


Nevertheless, Art Tatum was awarded Esquire magazine's prize for pianists in its 1944 critics' poll, which led to his playing alongside other winners at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.


Art Tatum abandoned the trio in 1944, possibly at an agent's behest, and did not record with one again for eight years.


The Billboard reviewer commented, "Art Tatum is given a broken-down instrument, some bad lights and nothing else", and observed that he was almost inaudible beyond the front seating because of the audience noise.


In 1947, Art Tatum again appeared on film, in The Fabulous Dorseys.


Art Tatum played for the first time at Club Alamo in Detroit, but stopped when a black friend was not served.


The owner subsequently advertised that black customers were welcome, and Art Tatum played there frequently in the next few years.


Clef released the solo pieces as The Genius of Art Tatum, which was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1978.


Art Tatum was, variously, criticized for not playing real jazz, the choice of material, and being past his best, and praised for the enthralling intricacy and detail of his playing, and his technical perfection.


The trio did not play with Kenton's orchestra on the tour, but had the same performance schedule, meaning Art Tatum sometimes traveled long distances by overnight train while the others stayed in a hotel and took a morning flight.


Black American musicians were not often filmed at this time, so very few visual recordings of Art Tatum exist, but his solo performance of "Yesterdays" on the show has survived as a video recording.


Art Tatum had little interest in music, and did not normally attend his performances.


Art Tatum was too unwell to continue touring, so returned to his home in Los Angeles.


Art Tatum died the next day, at Queen of Angels Medical Center in Los Angeles, from uremia.


Art Tatum was buried at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, but was moved to the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, California, in 1992 by his second wife, so she could be buried next to him.


Art Tatum was inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1964 and given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.


Art Tatum was independent-minded and generous with his time and money.


Art Tatum disliked having attention drawn to his blindness: he did not want to be physically led and so planned his independent walk to the piano in clubs if possible.


People who met Art Tatum consistently "describe him as totally lacking in arrogance or ostentation" and as gentlemanly.


Art Tatum avoided discussing his personal life and history in interviews and conversation with acquaintances.


Art Tatum was said to be more spontaneous and creative in free-form nocturnal sessions than in his scheduled performances.


Art Tatum sometimes sang the blues in such settings, accompanying himself on piano.


Saxophonist Benny Green wrote that Art Tatum was the only jazz musician to "attempt to conceive a style based upon all styles, to master the mannerisms of all schools, and then synthesize those into something personal".


Art Tatum was able to transform the styles of preceding jazz piano through virtuosity: where other pianists had employed repetitive rhythmic patterns and relatively simple decoration, he created "harmonic sweeps of colour [and] unpredictable and ever-changing shifts of rhythm".


Musicologist Lewis Porter identified three aspects of Art Tatum's playing that a casual listener might miss: the dissonance in his chords; his advanced use of substitute chord progressions; and his occasional use of bitonality.


Art Tatum incorporated upper intervals such as elevenths and thirteenths, and added tenths to the left-hand vocabulary of stride.


Art Tatum did not try to create new melodic lines over a harmonic progression; instead, he implied or played the original melody or fragments of it, while superimposing countermelodies and new phrases to create new structures based around variation.


Art Tatum is inviting us to share the joke and heartily kidding himself as well as the concert hall traditions to which he alludes.


Until the 1940s, Art Tatum's style was based on popular song form, which often meant two bars of melodic development followed by two more melodically static bars, which he filled with rapid runs or arpeggios.


Art Tatum increased the frequency of harmonic substitutions and the variety of musical devices played by his left hand, and developed a greater harmonic and contrapuntal balance across the piano's upper and lower registers.


Pianist Keith Jarrett has said that Art Tatum played too many notes, and a criticism of him in a band setting was that he often did not modify his playing, overwhelming the other musicians and appearing to compete with any soloist he was ostensibly supporting.


Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco said that playing with Art Tatum was "like chasing a train", and Art Tatum himself said that a band got in his way.


Art Tatum had a calm physical demeanor at the keyboard, not attempting crowd-pleasing theatrical gestures.


Art Tatum was capable of reaching twelfth intervals in either hand, and could play a succession of chords such as the illustrated examples at high speed.


Art Tatum was able to play all of his chosen material in any key.


Wiggins said that Art Tatum could identify and avoid using any keys on a piano that were not working, while guitarist Les Paul recounted that Art Tatum sometimes resorted to pulling up stuck keys with one hand, mid-performance, so that he could play them again.


Art Tatum's influence went beyond the piano: his innovations in harmony and rhythm established new ground in jazz more broadly.


Art Tatum made jazz musicians more aware of harmonic possibilities by changing the chords he used with great frequency; this helped lay the foundations for the emergence of bebop in the 1940s.


When newly arrived in New York, saxophonist Charlie Parker worked for three months as a dishwasher in a restaurant where Art Tatum was performing and often listened to him.