TATUM, Art: Fine And Dandy

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'Fine And Dandy' Original Recordings 1937-1944

Art Tatum is one of the few musicians for whomthe word \incredible" truly fits. Tatum'stechnique on the piano was so wondrous that itamazed classical pianists, his speed could beblinding and his musical vocabulary, especiallyharmonically, was three decades ahead of hiscontemporaries in the 1930s.

Tatum was born 13 October 1909 in Toledo,Ohio. Nearly blind from birth (just having aslight amount of vision in one eye), he was selftaughton the piano initially before gaining someformal training at the Toledo School of Music.

Tatum also briefly played guitar, violin andaccordion but soon stuck exclusively to piano.

He later stated that his main influences wereFats Waller and some of the semi-classicalpianists of the 1920s but there is no explanationfor his genius or where he originated many ofhis more startling musical ideas.

Tatum began playing professionally as ateenager in 1926 and had his own radio show inToledo during 1929-30. Although visitingmusicians raved about the pianist and urgedhim to come to New York, Tatum did not makethe move until 1932 when he was hired bysinger Adelaide Hall as one of two pianists toback her vocals. Tatum relocated to New York,made his recording debut with Hall and beganplaying piano in after-hours clubs and bars. Hisfirst solo recordings in 1933 are particularlyastounding, particularly a version of "Tiger Rag"that finds him sounding like three pianists.

Art Tatum spent most of his career playingsolo in dives. It was said by some that he couldnot play with other musicians due to his manykey and tempo changes and his speedy runs, butthe opposite was true; most musicians werescared to play with him! Tatum's command ofthe piano and his ability to play stride piano,swing and boogie-woogie with remarkablespeed and complexity meant that anyoneperforming with him would have to have a greatdeal of self-confidence and be extremely alert.

In the 1930s Tatum worked for extendedperiods in New York, Cleveland, Chicago andLos Angeles, visiting England in 1938. Althoughhe did not receive the publicity of Fats Waller(whose humorous vocals were very accessible),Teddy Wilson (due to his exposure with BennyGoodman) and (in the 1940s) Nat King Cole, allof the pianists were in awe of his abilities.

After his initial recording date as a soloist in1933, Tatum recorded fairly extensively duringAugust-October 1934 and then did not haveany other commercial record dates until cuttingfour numbers with a band in February 1937.

Otherwise he had made only one other visit tothe recording studios (not counting radiotranscription dates) before April 1939. Amongthe four songs that he recorded on29 November 1937 were "The Sheik Of Araby"and "Chlo-e". The Sheik Of Araby is a goodexample of Tatum's approach. He plays thefirst chorus and the verse fairly straight andthroughout the performance always keeps themelody close by. And yet, his variations are fullof surprises, his left hand is continually changingpatterns, there is some heated striding, andeach chorus is hotter than the previous one.

The final minute shows listeners why one nightwhen Fats Waller spotted Tatum in the audiencehe said "God is in the house."Chlo-e has been interpreted as both asentimental ballad and, in Spike Jones' case, asan easy song to satirize. Tatum takes "Chlo-e"on its own merits, reharmonizing it in spots,tossing in some surprising double-time runs andadding some of his subtle wit but mostly playingthe tune with warmth.

Moving to 1939, the 29-year old pianistbegins Tea For Two with the last part of thechorus and a melodic out-of-tempo stanzabefore jumping into a cooking tempo thatfeatures him coming up with some miraculousideas for the next two choruses. He concludesthe piece in the same mood as it had begun.

Deep Purple begins ironically, with Tatumalmost sounding as if he is just discovering thebeauty of the piece as he plays it; the secondchorus shows that he had long since masteredthe song and could do anything with it thatcame to mind.

Moonglow, immortalized by the BennyGoodman Quartet in 1936, receives aninterpretation by Tatum in 1940 that is just astimeless. The theme moves slowly, so thepianist has plenty of room even in the firstmelody chorus to toss in dazzling ideas. Andeven when he is playing at his most rapid ormost harmonically adventurous, theperformance sounds relaxed. Cocktails ForTwo, which like "Chlo-e" would becomeinfamous due to Spike Jones' version, is revealedby Tatum to be a sentimental and sweet melodythat he treats with affection.

On 13 February 1940, Earl Hines and hisbig band recorded their hit "Boogie Woogie OnSt Louis Blues". Although that catchy recordingis memorable, Tatum cuts it to shreds during hisboogie-woogie treatment of W. C. Handy's songfrom five months later. Boogie-woogie was therage at the time, and Tatum shows that hecould hold his own with the pianists whospecialized in that infectious form of 12-barblues (Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson andMeade Lux Lewis). Cole Porter's Begin TheBeguine in 1938 was the song that made ArtieShaw famous. Tatum developed his own freshapproach to the standard and performed asimilar arrangement for the piece throughout hiscareer. This 26 July 1940 version was Tatum'sfirst on record and remains one of his mostbeloved recordings.

Earl Hines, who preceded Tatum, was thefirst jazz pianist to break up the metronomicrole of the left hand of stride pianists, oftensuspending and implying time rather thanstating it on every beat. Rosetta is one of hismost famous compositions and there are spotsin this complex rendition where Tatum paysdirect tribute to Hines. Indiana, a dixielandstandard by the mid-1920s, is taken at a slowertempo than usual, giving Tatum an opportunityto bring out some of the hidden beauty in thesong.

The remainder of 'Fine And Dandy' datesfrom 1944. Tatum handles six standards in asimilar but never predictable fashion, statingthe theme prominently in the first chorus andthen taking wild departures without wanderingfar from the theme no matter how much hetwists and turns the chord structure or sprinkleshis improvisations with stunning outbursts.

Fine And Dandy is quite a tour-de-force (listento how it ends!), It Had To Be You istransformed from a romantic ballad into aremarkable journey and Ja-Da is given a playfultreatment that turns the simple song into highart. Where Or When and Sweet And Lovelyare relatively relaxed and thoughtful whileDanny Boy has a few unexpected momentswhere the pianist plays out of key for amoment, adding suspense to the performance.

In late 1943, Art Tatum surprised the jazzworld by forming a trio. Electric guitarist TinyGrimes, who was most influenced by CharlieChristian, and bassist Slam Stewart (whocontributed hummed solos that were sung inconjunction with his bowed bass) worked quitewell with Tatum and the venture lasted on andoff for a couple years. Boogie is a blues rompthat finds Grimes and Stewart matchingTatum's wit if not his virtuosity. If I Had Youshows that, although Tatum had to stick to onetempo and one key during performances withhis trio, he was still free to thrown in constantcurveballs that challenged his sidemen. Theswinging blues Soft Winds and the minor-keyromp Topsy show just how tight yetspontaneous the group could be.

After the trio broke up (with Slam Stewartjoining Benny Goodman), Tatum went back toperforming solo for much of the remainder ofhis career. He was an inspiration for OscarPeterson and the bebop generation thatfollowed while not feeling compelled tomodernize his style since he was already so farahead of everyone else.

Art Tatum passed away from uremia on5 November 1956 when he was just 47, havingset a standard
Disc: 1
1 The Sheik Of Araby
The Sheik Of Araby
1 The Sheik Of Araby
1 Chlo-e
2 Chlo-e
3 Tea For Two
4 Deep Purple
5 Moonglow
6 Cocktails For Two
7 St. Louis Blues
8 Begin The Beguine
9 Rosetta
10 (Back Home Again In) Indiana
11 Fine And Dandy
12 It Had To Be You
13 Ja Da
14 Where Or When
15 Sweet And Lovely
16 Danny Boy
17 Boogie
18 If I Had You
19 Soft Winds
20 Topsy
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