Tatumesque (on film)
After watching this amazing performance of “Humoresque” by Art Tatum this morning,
I looked for a version of the piece as Dvorak composed it and found this clip featuring Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma.
Then I watched this documentary on Tatum that was produced for an Ohio public television series, "Toledo Stories," and at 23:11 who should appear but Perlman talking about hearing a Tatum recording of “Humoresque” on a “jazz radio station.” The violinist says Tatum “totally slew me” with his “jazzed-up” performance and impressed him with his “incredible facility in that particular idiom.” Decades earlier, Tatum had wowed classical pianists, including Leopold Godowsky and Vladimir Horowitz, who reportedly went to see him at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in the mid-'40's.
Today is Tatum’s 103rd birthday anniversary. The documentary focuses on his background in Toledo with recollections by his sister and other acquaintances, as well as the scene from his appearance in “The Dorsey Brothers,” and an interview with Buddy DeFranco, who recorded with Tatum in 1956. That's Tommy Dorsey saying, "Let's go hear a real musician," as they light out for an after-hours club where Tatum is playing.
I've always liked Len Lyons' compact description of Tatum's expansive style: "His harmonic variations were startling. Where another pianist might go directly from one chord to the next, Tatum's left hand would walk crablike through a cycle of four to six new chords between the original two. Meanwhile, his right hand would spin out a web of interconnecting lines of 32nd notes. Tatum would keep up these magnificent circumlocutions for eight bars or more and never drop a beat."
"The Art of Jazz Piano" is often billed as the only documentary on Tatum, notwithstanding the above. It includes most of the extant footage of the pianist, less emphasis on Toledo and more on technique, and appreciations by Hank Jones, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, and others.
Finally, for all the Itzhak Perlman's of the world, long live jazz radio!