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Art Tatum

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Toledo, Ohio, USA (1909 – 1956)

Art Tatum (Arthur Tatum, Jr., October 13, 1909, Toledo, Ohio, USA - November 5, 1956, Los Angeles, California) was an American pianist and virtuoso who played with phenomenal facility despite being nearly blind since birth.

Tatum is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was noted for the complexity and speed of his performances, which set a new standard for jazz piano virtuosity.

Tatum drew inspiration from his contemporaries James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, and had a great influence on other famous jazz pianists, such as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Chick Corea, and Oscar Peterson. Saxophonist Charlie Parker took his first job in New York as a dishwasher where Tatum played, just for the experience of hearing Tatum’s harmonic inventions.

Tatum identified Fats Waller as his main influence, but according to pianist Teddy Wilson and saxophonist Eddie Barefield, “Art Tatum’s favorite jazz piano player was Earl Hines. He used to buy all of Earl’s records and would improvise on them. He’d play the record but he’d improvise over what Earl was doing … ‘course, when you heard Art play you didn’t hear nothing of anybody but Art. But he got his ideas from Earl’s style of playing – but Earl never knew that.”
A major event in his meteoric rise to success was his appearance at a cutting contest in 1933 at Morgan’s bar in New York City that included Waller, Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith.

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