Art Tatum: Elegie
Art Tatum (piano)
Decca Presents Art Tatum: Solos (1940) (Decca-MCA 42327)
Art Tatum (piano).
Composed by Jules Massenet.
Recorded: Los Angeles, February 22, 1940
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
This was the side of Tatum that drove his critics mad. Instead of trying to raise jazz composition to the next level, he was out there "ragging the classics" like the old stride players. And not even the serious classics. The numbers he favored, such as "Elegie" and "Humoresque," are more often played by clumsy piano students than real concert hall artists. But Tatum snubbed his nose at the highbrows, adding flourish after flourish in his grandiloquent reworkings of middlebrow parlor favorites.
Respect "Elegie" you must, however, since no one has ever topped this way of one-upping the virtuoso tradition of the classical world from an outside perspective. Tatum at age thirty was a monster at the keys, and his dynamics, tone control, and clarity of execution are little short of stunning here. The performance itself may be more a game than a serious attempt to grapple with the potential of jazz, yet even games have their masters and moments of profundity. If you want to understand Tatum, you need to sample this side of his multifaceted musical persona.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia