1980s Documentary

Phineas Newborn and Art Tatum


A documentary that covers the lives and music of the two brilliant pianists

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This intriguing film from the mid-1980s is split evenly between the stories of Phineas Newborn, Jr. and Art Tatum.

“The Joy and Sorrow of Phineas Newborn” starts off with an outstanding performance by the pianist and his trio in the mid-1950s of an uptempo version of “Oleo” which really shows off his technique and ability to sound relaxed at a rapid tempo.

There are also some other brief clips of Newborn, including a cooking blues and some music from late in his life in the mid-1980s, but the bulk of this section is an extensive interview with his last bassist Jamil Nasser about his musical genius and sometimes-difficult life.

The Art Tatum part, which is simply titled “Like It Is,” has brief moments from other pianists (including a rousing number from Oscar Peterson), comments from Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Tatum’s former guitarist Tiny Grimes, a memorable piano impression of Tatum played by Jaki Byard, and Byard being interviewed at length about Art Tatum’s musical genius.

-Scott Yanow


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