Art Tatum - Live
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
1.Tiny's Exercice Three Deuces New-York 1943
2.The Fabulous Dorseys (film) 1946
3.Yesterdays Spike Jones Show New-York 17 April 1954
Critic Gunther Schuller declared, "On one point there is universal agreement: Tatum's awesome technique." That technique was marked by a calm physical demeanor and efficiency. Tatum did not indulge in theatrical physical or facial expression. The effortless gliding of his hands over difficult passages baffled most who witnessed the phenomenon. He especially astonished other pianists to whom Tatum appeared to be "playing the impossible." Even when playing scintillating runs at high velocity, it appeared that his fingers hardly moved. Hank Jones said:
When I finally met him and got a chance to hear him play in person, it seemed as if he wasn't really exerting much effort, he had an effortless way of playing. It was deceptive. You'd watch him and you couldn't believe what was coming out, what was reaching your ears. He didn't have that much motion at the piano. He didn’t make a big show of moving around and waving his hands and going through all sorts of physical gyrations to produce the music that he produced, so that in itself is amazing. There had to be intense concentration there, but you couldn’t tell by just looking at him play.
Using self-taught fingering, including an array of two-fingered runs, he executed the pyrotechnics with meticulous accuracy and timing. His execution was all the more remarkable considering that he drank prodigious amounts of alcohol when performing, yet his recordings are never sloppy. Tatum also displayed phenomenal independence of the hands and ambidexterity, which was particularly evident while improvising counterpoint. Oscar Peterson cited Tatum as one of the most "intimidating" pianists, and said that "there wasn't a jazz pianist of the era who wasn't influenced by him".
Tatum played chords with a relatively flat-fingered technique compared to the curvature taught in classical training. Composer/pianist Mary Lou Williams told Whitney Balliett, "Tatum taught me how to hit my notes, how to control them without using pedals. And he showed me how to keep my fingers flat on the keys to get that clean tone."
Jimmy Rowles said, "Most of the stuff he played was clear over my head. There was too much going on—both hands were impossible to believe. You couldn't pick out what he was doing because his fingers were so smooth and soft, and the way he did it—it was like camouflage."