October 13, 1909 – November 5, 1956
During the late 1930s and early 1940s Art established himself in jazz circles playing across the country and in England. Also in the 1940s he formed his first trio with bass player Slam Stewart and guitarist Tiny Grimes. In 1953 he signed a deal with producer Norman Granz and record 69 tracks in two days. Only on three of those tracks did Tatum need to play a second take. Also on these recordings was Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton, Ben Webster, Harry Sweats Edison and others. His absolutely amazing talent allowed him to be extremely productive in a short amount of time. Those recordings were sadly cut short, when Tatum passed away from uremia in 1956.
Art Tatum leaves a legacy and virtuosity on his instrument that is matched by very few if any. When Oscar Peterson first heard a recording of Tatum, his father had to convince him that there was only one piano player on the record and when Peterson realized this was true he was so intimidated by that, he refused to touch a piano for weeks. When Hank Jones first heard a recording of Tatum, he believed that at least three people were playing and clearly they had devised some sort of trick to make people think it was just one. Tatum was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989 among others.
“First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists.” – Dizzy Gillespie
“I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house.” – Fats Waller
“Look, you come in here tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I’ll do with my left.” – Art Tatum to Bud Powell
“You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!” – Art Tatum