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Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson

Before we get began, for these of you who might not play the piano, or know a lot about jazz piano, who want a evaluate or wish to study extra, this amusing and insightful piano lesson, given by the late Oscar Peterson on The Dick Cavett Show in 1975, is a delight, and an training on a wide range of kinds of jazz piano play. He demonstrates the kinds of Art Tatum, Nat King ColeErroll Garner, and George Shearing—and even sings a bar or two. 

Though I’ll even be speaking about Peterson later, the person on the prime of my biggest jazz pianists record, in settlement with many jazz musicians, is the late nice Art Tatum. There is an oft-repeated story about Tatum; here’s how NPR tells it.

The nice stride pianist Fats Waller famously introduced one night time when Tatum walked into the membership the place Waller was enjoying, “I only play the piano, but tonight, God is in the house.”

This legend is answerable for one in every of Tatum’s many albums being named God is in the House. Here is Tatum’s rousing rendition of “Lady Be Good” from that album, with bassist Ebenezer Paul and trumpet participant Frankie Newton.

Tatum’s story is one in every of overcome bodily adversity: He was born legally blind.

Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio. From beginning he suffered from cataracts which left him blind in a single eye, and with solely very restricted imaginative and prescient within the different. He performed piano from his youth (after switching from the violin) and acquired some formal coaching earlier than creating his superb approach on his personal.

A outstanding prodigy, Tatum realized to play by copying piano roll recordings his mom owned, enjoying by ear by the age of three. Tatum would study each elements of a chunk for 4 arms by feeling the keys depressed on the piano. By the age of six he was capable of play songs initially carried out as duets, unaware that there have been imagined to be two gamers. In this fashion, he developed an extremely quick enjoying model, with out shedding any of his accuracy. As a toddler Tatum was additionally very delicate to the piano’s intonation, and insisted or not it’s tuned usually.

WGTE-TV produced this brief documentary on Tatum in 1983, for his or her “Toledo Stories” sequence. They describe the world of Toledo throughout prohibition, with a thriving nightlife in speakeasy’s and after-hours joints—the place younger Art received his begin.  

Musicians who got here via Toledo—like Duke Ellington and Fats Waller—inspired him to go away and head to New York, however it didn’t occur till Tatum was able to go. 

In “Art Tatum, Greatest Jazz Pianist Who Ever Lived,” Avil Beckford writes about Tatum’s eventual exit from Ohio.

In 1932, jazz singer Adelaide Hall heard Tatum carry out and introduced him to New York as her second accompanist. He made a lot of the alternative – that very same yr he made his first document as her accompanist and the following yr he made his first solo document. Tatum would stick with Hall for 2 years and through that point she gave him more and more extra demanding roles.

In New York, Tatum spent the time wanted to find after-hours golf equipment, and sought out the easiest gamers. Tatum had a really aggressive and combative nature, at all times wanting to point out off his superior expertise. He would wait till all of the gamers had carried out and proven their greatest, then he would merely outplay them. He would play what they performed then added to it with ingenious and artistic variations.

According to Tatum’s biographer James Lester, “The reigning kings of jazz piano, Fats Waller, Willie “the Lion” Smith and James P. Johnson, “invited” Tatum to a session the next night time [the night after his first appearance with Adelaide Hall]. By all accounts, the Toledo teenager ascended to the head that night, by no means to be dethroned. As author Robert Doerschuk reported mentor Waller’s phrases: “That Tatum, he was just too good…. He had too much technique. When that man turns on the powerhouse, don’t no one play him down. He sounds like a brass band.””

As a side-note, should you’ve by no means heard of Adelaide Hall, who was a serious star, and is believed to have initiated scat singing, right here’s a hyperlink to a 1989 special on her life and career.

In the WGTE-TV documentary, classical violin virtuoso Itzak Perlman—who was wowed by Tatum—talks about Tatum’s facility with the classical style. Here’s Tatum styling Dvorak

For a deeper exploration of Tatum, his music and his influence on jazz, I recommend you learn his biography by James Lester: Too Marvelous for Words: The Life & Genius of Art Tatum.

Art Tatum outlined the boundaries of the potential in jazz piano. Gunther Schuller known as Tatum’s enjoying “a marvel of perfection…. His deep-in-the-keys full piano sonority, the tone and touch control in pyrotechnical passages…are miracles of performance.” Whitney Balliett wrote “no pianist has ever hit notes more beautifully. Each one–no matter how fast the tempo–was light and complete and resonant, like the letters on a finely printed page.” His well-known runs have been in comparison with the arc left in opposition to the night time sky by a Fourth-of-July sparkler. And to have heard him play, one musician stated, “was as awe-inspiring as to have seen the Grand Canyon or Halley’s Comet.”

Now, in Too Marvelous For Words, James Lester gives the primary full-length biography of the best virtuoso performer within the historical past of jazz. Before this quantity, little was recognized about Tatum, even amongst jazz afficionados. What have been his origins, who taught him and who supplied early pianistic influences, how did he break into the jazz subject, what position did he play within the improvement of different jazz gamers, and what was he like when he wasn’t enjoying? To reply these questions, Lester has carried out virtually 100 interviews for this guide, with surviving household, childhood pals, schoolteachers, and the well-known jazz musicians who performed with him or knew him.

Lester creates a memorable portrait of this distinctive musician and of the colourful jazz world of the 1930s and 1940s, capturing the complexity and vitality of this outstanding performer. Tatum, who was nearly blind, struggling between 70% and 90% visible impairment, emerges as cheerful, fun-loving, energetic and out-going, with not one of the demonic self-destructiveness that appeared to hang-out such jazz greats as Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday. He usually joked about his blindness, however didn’t prefer it talked about as a handicap and most well-liked to pre-plan his entrance to the piano in a membership, somewhat than have somebody lead him there. He was merely inexhaustible and had a life-long behavior of staying up all night time after a gig, often looking for an after-hours membership during which to hear and play till dawn. Lester additionally reveals that Tatum was beneficiant with youthful gamers, however his extraordinary technical brilliance usually devastated them. No much less a expertise than Oscar Peterson remembers that after first listening to Tatum, “I gave up the piano for two solid months, and I had crying fits at night.” 

Peterson builds on the ability Tatum held over him in this usually humorous dialog with Count Basie; they share recollections of Tatum on this 1975 BBC present. As Peterson states, “Art Tatum used to literally intimidate pianists.”

Still struggling to wrap your head round Tatum’s sheer virtuosity? Here are three very completely different variations of him enjoying “Tea for Two.”  (Three variations as compared: 1: 00:001933. 2: 03:151939. 3: 05:54,1953. 

Which one do you like?

Sadly, there isn’t a lot video footage accessible of Tatum enjoying. Though you may hear his mastery, watching his fingers float over the keys is, in and of itself, a magical expertise.

Oscar Peterson—talked about above—was and nonetheless is taken into account to be one of the towering giants of the jazz keyboards from his period. When he handed on, he had a must-read, lengthy obituary, written by Steve Voce for UK’s The Independent. Much beloved in England, Peterson was born in Montreal, Canada. 

Following Oscar Peterson on stage at a live performance in 1967, Duke Ellington remarked: “When I was a small boy my music teacher was Mrs Clinkscales. The first thing she ever said to me was, ‘Edward, always remember, whatever you do, don’t sit down at the piano after Oscar Peterson’.”

In 1953, Nat King Cole stated to Peterson, “I’ll make a deal with you, Oscar. You don’t sing and I won’t play the piano.” Peterson had simply recorded his first album of vocals, accompanying himself on the piano. His voice sounded remarkably like Cole’s and his piano model had additionally advanced in order that it sounded near Cole’s work with Cole’s personal trio. The two jazz musicians agreed, and Oscar Peterson gave up singing, whereas Nat King Cole recorded piano-less vocals backed by large orchestras.

Earlier, in 1945, a 16-year-old John Williams, later to be Stan Getz’s pianist, was on tour in Canada with the Mal Hallett band and was enjoying in Montreal. “All the talk in the crowd was of a brilliant local pianist,” stated Williams, “and as we played, suddenly, between numbers, the packed audience in the dance hall parted like the Red Sea and this huge guy came up towards the bandstand. With some insight, I vacated that piano bench quick and he sat down. He played, and we were stunned. I had never heard anyone play like that.”

Peterson was a toddler prodigy, and he’d been enjoying “like that” for most of his life.

Oscar Peterson was the fourth of 5 kids. He was raised within the poor St. Henri neighbourhood of Montreal, also called Little Burgundy. His dad and mom hailed from St. Kitts and the British Virgin Islands. His mom, Kathleen, was a home employee. His father, Daniel, was a boatswain within the Merchant Marines who grew to become a porter with the Canadian Pacific Railway. A self-taught beginner organist and strict disciplinarian, he led the household band in live shows at church buildings and neighborhood halls. He insisted that the entire Peterson kids study piano and a brass instrument. Each in flip taught the following youngest little one.

Oscar started enjoying trumpet and piano at age 5. He targeted solely on piano at age eight following a year-long battle with tuberculosis. (The illness claimed the lifetime of his eldest brother, Fred, at age 16.) Oscar’s first teacher was his sister, Daisy. She grew to become a revered piano trainer in Montreal’s Black neighborhood. Her later pupils included the jazz musicians Oliver Jones, Joe Sealy and Reg Wilson. Peterson’s brother, Chuck, grew to become an expert trumpet participant. His different sister, May, taught piano. She additionally labored for a time as Oscar’s private assistant.

Peterson studied piano throughout his youth and teenagers with academics of broadly completely different backgrounds. At the age of 12, he briefly took piano classes from Louis Hooper, a classically educated Canadian veteran of the Harlem jazz scene of the 1920s. Later, Peterson attended the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. At 14, he studied with Paul de Marky, a Hungarian live performance pianist within the 19th-century custom of Franz Liszt. Peterson was additionally a classmate of trumpet participant Maynard Ferguson. They performed collectively in a dance band led by Maynard’s brother, Percy.

The virtuoso tells his personal story, and plenty of jazz historical past together with it, in A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson.

Oscar Peterson’s profession as a jazz pianist has spanned over 5 a long time. During that point, he has recorded practically 90 albums, received seven Grammys, and earned lifetime achievement awards from the Black Theatre Workshop, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. He has performed with, and are available to know, most of the style’s biggest contributors, together with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington[…] 

Peterson guides readers via the turbulent 1940s, when he was enjoying with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal, and first met Norman Granz – the jazz producer who would launch his profession. With Granz, he joined Jazz on the Philharmonic, enjoying at Carnegie Hall and touring throughout North America. A Jazz Odyssey additionally brings readers to the beginning of the Oscar Peterson Trio – the place Peterson would hone his trademark association of piano, guitar, and bass and work with the likes of Ray Brown, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis. Peterson describes the limitless follow classes and tireless work ethic that earned the group the popularity of the toughest working trio within the enterprise. He additionally describes assembly his idol Art Tatum in the course of the 1950s and touring with him in Jazz on the Philharmonic.

2003’s Oscar Peterson: Keeping the Groove Alive also tackles his story. Along the best way, Peterson and different musicians, like Herbie Hancock and Diana Krall, paint a portrait of the trials, perils, and rewards of life on the highway and within the music enterprise. 

Peterson and his spouse additionally speak about his main stroke in 1993, which took the usage of his left hand. With the assistance of family and friends, he fought again and performed once more. 

This is the trailer.

For these of you who have to cleanse your palates of all of the ugly that’s swirling round us, making a miasma of unease and discontent, right here’s a heavy dose of Oscar like to brighten your day, spanning a number of completely different performances along with his Trio, from 1963-1965.

If you’d like much more perception into Peterson’s life, a second documentary, from 1995’s Oscar Peterson: Music in the Key of Oscar, is jam-packed with performances and interviews with “a Who’s Who of jazz legends,” together with Quincy Jones and Ella Fitzgerald. 

It’s troublesome for me to pick a favourite Peterson tune, however I‘ll depart you with one in every of my faves: “Nigerian Marketplace,” which he debuted on the 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival. This 1985 efficiency was recorded dwell in Berlin.

Though Peterson has handed, he’s still making waves; new efforts to call a key Montreal plaza in his honor ramped up simply this month!

With his magical tunes so masterfully executed, it’s little surprise why folks name Oscar Peterson the best jazz pianist ever. His expertise has been celebrated by the world with a large number of awards and accolades, together with eight Grammys, the Order of Canada, and a statue unveiled in Ottawa by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

But some say one thing is lacking: recognition from his hometown of Montreal. “Although a small park has been named in Little Burgundy, we don’t think it rises to the stature and the legend that he was,” stated municipal opposition chief Lionel Perez. Perez says his social gathering will introduce a movement at Montreal City Hall to rename Place des Festivals “Place Oscar Peterson.”Place des Festivals is positioned in downtown Montreal and hosts the world’s largest jazz competition.

Oscar Peterson’s widow, Kelly Peterson stated the initiative can be a “wonderful” method to honour her late husband’s jazz legacy.“I also think that because it’s the place where the Montreal Jazz International Festival, that it is appropriate,” Peterson stated.

I hope it occurs. 

I had deliberate to cowl Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk, and maybe to squeeze in McCoy Tyner as effectively, however alas, pricey readers, that simply didn’t occur, as a result of I ran out of area. So tune in subsequent week, identical time, identical place. 

You can submit and forged votes on your favorites in feedback, and whereas the ivories tickle, let the sound of the piano information you all the way down to the polls as early voting continues.

It’s not too late to help Daily Kos-endorsed candidates as they race to the finish line! Will you give $3 to our slate of progressive candidates? 

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