The Kennedy Center

Art Tatum



Biography

Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909, Art Tatum is ranked among the greatest jazz piano soloists. He came from a musical family and when young had some formal training at the Toledo School of Music where his teacher tried to steer him toward a career as a classical concert pianist.

Tatum, however, was interested in the music of jazz pianist Fats Waller, which would be a strong influence on him. He was mostly self-taught, learning from recordings and other musicians. Blind at birth in one eye and with partial sight in the other, he learned to read sheet music with the aid of glasses and the Braille method.

At age 18 he was playing interludes at a Toledo radio station and within a short time had his own show. In 1932 the singer Adelaide Hall brought him to New York as her accompanist. Among his first recordings, about this time, was "Tiger Rag” which displays astonishing dexterity. Legend has it that classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz was so awed by Tatum's ability that it brought him to tears.

By the middle 1930s, he was established as a major figure in jazz circles. In the early 1940s Tatum formed a trio, and spent much of the next decade touring North America. In 1953 he began to record extensively both as a soloist and in small groups with Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Buddy De Franco, Lionel Hampton, Ben Webster and others. In 1956, at age 47, he died from a kidney ailment.

September, 2002

Art Tatum