Art Tatum

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Arthur "Art" Tatum, Jr. (October 13, 1909 – November 5, 1956) was an American jazz pianist and virtuoso. He was nearly blind.

Tatum is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.[1] Critic Scott Yanow wrote, "Tatum's quick reflexes and boundless imagination kept his improvisations filled with fresh (and sometimes futuristic) ideas that put him way ahead of his contemporaries ... Art Tatum's recordings still have the ability to scare modern pianists."[2]


Life and career

For a musician of such stature, there is very little published information available about Tatum's life. Only one full-length biography of Tatum has been published, Too Marvelous for Words, by James Lester.[3] Lester interviewed many Tatum contemporaries for the book and drew from many articles published about Tatum.[4]

Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio. His father, Arthur Tatum, Sr., was a guitarist and an elder at Grace Presbyterian Church, where his mother, Mildred Hoskins, played piano.[5] He had two siblings, Karl and Arlene.[6] From infancy he suffered from cataracts of disputed cause which left him blind in one eye and with only very limited vision in the other. A number of surgical procedures improved his eye condition to a degree but some of the benefits were reversed when he was assaulted in 1930 at age 20.[7]

A child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play by ear, picking out church hymns by the age of three, learning tunes from the radio and copying piano-roll recordings his mother owned.[8] He developed an incredibly fast playing style, without losing accuracy. As a child he was also very sensitive to the piano's intonation and insisted it be tuned often.[9] While playing piano was the most obvious application of his skills, he also had an encyclopedic memory for Major League Baseball statistics.

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