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a6Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Volume 1 (CD)

Art Tatum

Concord Music Group 2013

Review by David Bowling

The Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classic Remasters Series has passed thirty releases, which brings us to Art Tatum.  He was one of the most gifted pianists to ever walk the planet. The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 1 is one of the latest releases in the series.

Tatum walked into a recording studio on December 28, 1953, armed with several six-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.  After listening to a UCLA basketball, while downing several beers, he uttered, “Let’s go.”  And go he did, as over the next two days he recorded 69 songs, most of them in one take.  Two more marathon sessions followed in April, 1954 and January, 1955. When it was over, he had recorded 125 songs. Now nearly 60 years later, a first volume containing 16 of those tracks has been reissued.

He was a master technician, which was somewhat rare for a jazz pianist. While he grew up emulating Fats Waller and Earl Hines; he also had classical elements in his style. His ability to take a melody and change the chord progressions, almost at will, was his greatest strength. While he could play the blues, he mainly covered songs from Broadway and The Great American Songbook because they had structures that allowed him to improvise.

The tracks catch Tatum as his best. He preferred to record solo and not be hindered by a rhythm section. Songs such as “Moonglow,” “Willow Weep For Me,” “I’m In The Mood For Love,” “Embraceable You,” “You Took Advantage Of Me,” and “Sophisticated Lady” find him relaxed and at the height of his powers and skills.

The material has been released in the past but now the sound is clear and crisp due to modern technology. There are also new liner notes, which give a nice overview of the sessions and music.

Art Tatum is sometimes a forgotten genius of a half-century ago.  His premature death in 1956 at the age of 47 robbed the music world of years of brilliance. The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces, Vol. 1 is a must listen for any fan of jazz music.

Rating: ****

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