They tickled the ivories and made jazz historical past: Artwork Tatum and Oscar Peterson

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Earlier than 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 need to study extra, this amusing and insightful piano lesson, given by the late Oscar Peterson on The Dick Cavett Present in 1975, is a delight, and an schooling on quite a lot of kinds of jazz piano play. He demonstrates the kinds of Artwork Tatum, Nat King ColeErroll Garner, and George Shearing—and even sings a bar or two. 

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

The nice stride pianist Fat Waller famously introduced one evening when Tatum walked into the membership the place Waller was enjoying, “I solely play the piano, however tonight, God is in the home.”

This legend is accountable for one in every of Tatum’s many albums being named God is in the House. Right here is Tatum’s rousing rendition of “Woman 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 obtained some formal coaching earlier than creating his superb method on his personal.

A outstanding prodigy, Tatum discovered to play by copying piano roll recordings his mom owned, enjoying by ear by the age of three. Tatum would study each components of a chunk for 4 palms 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 presupposed to be two gamers. On this manner, 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 it’s tuned usually.

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

Musicians who got here by means of Toledo—like Duke Ellington and Fat Waller—inspired him to go away and head to New York, nevertheless 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 Corridor heard Tatum carry out and introduced him to New York as her second accompanist. He made many of the alternative – that very same yr he made his first report as her accompanist and the subsequent yr he made his first solo report. Tatum would stick with Corridor 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.

In accordance with Tatum’s biographer James Lester, “The reigning kings of jazz piano, Fat Waller, Willie “the Lion” Smith and James P. Johnson, “invited” Tatum to a session the next evening [the night after his first appearance with Adelaide Hall]. By all accounts, the Toledo teenager ascended to the top that night, by no means to be dethroned. As author Robert Doerschuk reported mentor Waller’s phrases: “That Tatum, he was simply too good…. He had an excessive amount of method. When that man activates the powerhouse, don’t nobody play him down. He appears like a brass band.””

As a side-note, in the event 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.

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

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

Artwork Tatum outlined the bounds of the doable in jazz piano. Gunther Schuller referred to as Tatum’s enjoying “a marvel of perfection…. His deep-in-the-keys full piano sonority, the tone and contact management in pyrotechnical passages…are miracles of efficiency.” Whitney Balliett wrote “no pianist has ever hit notes extra fantastically. Each–no matter how briskly the tempo–was gentle and full and resonant, just like the letters on a finely printed web page.” His well-known runs have been in comparison with the arc left towards the evening sky by a Fourth-of-July sparkler. And to have heard him play, one musician mentioned, “was as awe-inspiring as to have seen the Grand Canyon or Halley’s Comet.”

Now, in Too Marvelous For Phrases, James Lester offers the primary full-length biography of the best virtuoso performer within the historical past of jazz. Earlier than this quantity, little was recognized about Tatum, even amongst jazz afficionados. What had been his origins, who taught him and who offered early pianistic influences, how did he break into the jazz area, what function 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 nearly 100 interviews for this e book, with surviving household, childhood buddies, 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 Nineteen Thirties and Forties, capturing the complexity and vitality of this outstanding performer. Tatum, who was just about 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 Vacation. 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 evening after a gig, often searching for an after-hours membership wherein 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 2 stable months, and I had crying matches at evening.” 

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

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

Which one do you like?

Sadly, there isn’t a lot video footage out there of Tatum enjoying. Although you possibly can 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 Impartial. A lot beloved in England, Peterson was born in Montreal, Canada. 

Following Oscar Peterson on stage at a live performance in 1967, Duke Ellington remarked: “Once I was a small boy my music trainer was Mrs Clinkscales. The very first thing she ever mentioned to me was, ‘Edward, at all times keep in mind, no matter you do, do not sit down on the piano after Oscar Peterson’.”

In 1953, Nat King Cole mentioned to Peterson, “I am going to make a take care of you, Oscar. You do not sing and I will not 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 2 jazz musicians agreed, and Oscar Peterson gave up singing, whereas Nat King Cole recorded piano-less vocals backed by big 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 of the speak within the crowd was of a superb native pianist,” mentioned Williams, “and as we performed, instantly, between numbers, the packed viewers within the dance corridor parted just like the Pink Sea and this big man got here up in direction of the bandstand. With some perception, I vacated that piano bench fast and he sat down. He performed, and we had been shocked. I had by no means heard anybody 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 Service provider Marines who turned a porter with the Canadian Pacific Railway. A self-taught novice organist and strict disciplinarian, he led the household band in concert events at church buildings and neighborhood halls. He insisted that the entire Peterson kids study piano and a brass instrument. Every in flip taught the subsequent 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 turned 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, turned knowledgeable trumpet participant. His different sister, Could, taught piano. She additionally labored for a time as Oscar’s private assistant.

Peterson studied piano throughout his youth and teenagers with lecturers of broadly totally different backgrounds. On the age of 12, he briefly took piano classes from Louis Hooper, a classically skilled Canadian veteran of the Harlem jazz scene of the Twenties. 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 Nineteenth-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 a whole lot 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. Throughout that point, he has recorded almost 90 albums, received seven Grammys, and earned lifetime achievement awards from the Black Theatre Workshop, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the Nationwide Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. He has performed with, and are available to know, lots of the style’s best contributors, together with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Depend Basie, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington[…] 

Peterson guides readers by means of the turbulent Forties, 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 Corridor 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 infinite observe periods and tireless work ethic that earned the group the status of the toughest working trio within the enterprise. He additionally describes assembly his idol Artwork Tatum in the course of the Fifties and touring with him in Jazz on the Philharmonic.

2003’s Oscar Peterson: Preserving the Groove Alive also tackles his story. Alongside 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 street and within the music enterprise. 

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

That is the trailer.

For these of you who must 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 totally different performances along with his Trio, from 1963-1965.

In the event 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 out a favourite Peterson tune, however I‘ll depart you with one in every of my faves: “Nigerian Market,” which he debuted on the 1981 Montreux Jazz Competition. This 1985 efficiency was recorded dwell in Berlin.

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

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

However some say one thing is lacking: recognition from his hometown of Montreal. “Though a small park has been named in Little Burgundy, we don’t assume it rises to the stature and the legend that he was,” mentioned municipal opposition chief Lionel Perez. Perez says his get together will introduce a movement at Montreal Metropolis Corridor to rename Place des Festivals “Place Oscar Peterson.”Place des Festivals is situated in downtown Montreal and hosts the world’s largest jazz pageant.

Oscar Peterson’s widow, Kelly Peterson mentioned the initiative could be a “great” option to honour her late husband’s jazz legacy.“I additionally assume that as a result of it’s the place the place the Montreal Jazz Worldwide Competition, that it’s acceptable,” Peterson mentioned.

I hope it occurs. 

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

You’ll be able to publish and solid 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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