Art Tatum

The Art of Jazz Piano [Video]

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Owing perhaps in part to the scarcity of performance footage and interviews (even audio-only) with legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum, this hour-long documentary (originally produced for television in 1988) is a modest affair that relies heavily on still photographs and interviews with musicians influenced by Tatum. Within those limits, it's a decent enough overview of Tatum's style and impact, though not a place to get the comprehensive story behind his performing and recording career. At least there's plenty of original Tatum music on the soundtrack, interspersed with some interviews with a few major musicians (guitarist Les Paul, pianists Hank Jones and Dick Hyman), Fats Waller's son Maurice Waller, and younger brother Karl Tatum. There are also, fortunately, a few brief actual clips of Tatum performing that show his amazing piano style, as well as some clips of other jazz giants he influenced (Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, and Fats Waller). The interviews tend to focus on the particulars of Tatum's technique, and only bare outlines of his upbringing, visual disability, and career as a jazz star are noted. For those you'll have to go to printed sources, but for what this is, it's a respectful portrait of a jazz legend that does convey the essence of his music and significance.

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