Virtuoso pianist Art Tatum was born on October 13th, 1909. Tatum was one of the foremost musicians of his era, and is considered one of the most technically gifted pianists on record. Take a listen to this recording of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” below. This performance speaks for itself.
Born in Toledo, Ohio on October 13th, 1909, Tatum began his musical journey at an early age. Born with severely limited vision, Tatum attended the School for the Blind in Columbus Ohio in 1924, then returned to Toledo and briefly studied at the Toledo School of Music with Overton G. Rainey, focusing on classical music. His time there was short, and scholars have concluded that much of musical education must have been self-directed, learning songs from records, radio and player piano rolls.
In 1927, at age 18, Tatum began playing on Toledo radio station WSPD, and before long was given his own program. He garnered from prominent musicians quickly, including bandleaders Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. Vocalist Adelaide Hall heard Tatum play while on tour in Toledo in 1932 and soon recruited him for her band, and shortly after he relocated to New York City. Before long, he made contact with James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Fats Waller, who were considered the top jazz pianists at the time, who would all recognize his incredible talent. This lead to many years of standing club gigs throughout New York City and abroad.
Art Tatum was well known for his playing outside of formal settings. At the time, it was the norm for jazz musicians to continue to play in homes and at parties after the clubs would close, and Tatum’s playing at these informal gatherings had a reputation for audacity and freewheeling improvisation. Musicians were uniformly dazzled by these performances, and he became known as the great virtuoso in New York.
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