Art Tatum: Sophisticated Lady (Solo Masterpieces version)

Art Tatum recorded this same piece at his first commercial session back in 1933, but this updated performance shows how much he had matured during the intervening two decades. No he doesn't play any faster than he did back in the Great Depression -- he was already at the Einsteinian limits of keyboard speed from his first appearance on the scene. But his rhythmic approach on the later version is much freer, and his harmonic inventions even more inspired. He starts with an out-of-tempo melody statement, but soon is pulling out all his patented tricks -- two-handed acrobatics, heavy stride, bluesy asides, dipsy-doodle runs, and those thick chords that sound like twelve or thirteen fingers are spread out on the keyboard. A very sophisticated lady.

December 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Sophisticated Lady (1933)

Only five weeks after Duke Ellington recorded his version of this now popular standard, Art Tatum features it at the session that produced his debut solo 78s. Tatum is clearly attracted by the four-chords-to-a-bar hook that Ellington employs in the second and fourth measures of the main theme. Tatum adds further ornamentation to this part of the song—but it's like too much frosting on the cake. Tatum's technique is (as always) impressive, and even three-quarters of a century later remains the benchmark against which all jazz keyboard virtuosos are measured. But the master's music is sometimes haunted by a mechanical quality—like a player piano on steroids—and this early performance has more flash than flesh. Not enough sophistication to this lady for our taste. Tatum's later recording of this same composition as part of Norman Granz's Solo Masterpieces project is more nuanced, and a far superior performance. Even so, one needs to bow to an artist who is playing with this much confidence and dexterity at his debut leader date.

December 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Sophisticated Lady

During his illustrious 50-year recording career, Duke Ellington led >1,000 sessions, each yielding multiple tracks. While collectively indispensable, they haven't aged equally well. Consider the Maestro's maiden "Sophisticated Lady," which rates high as a historic composition notwithstanding a virtual parade of what we now consider antiquated performance practices: trombonist Brown's unctuous vibrato, Bigard's porcelain clarinet, Hardwick's smarmy, trilling alto, glissading ensembles, all laid over a clunky four-beat guitar. Perhaps it's loutish to deride a lady arrayed in yesteryear's fashions. But even by the standards of the day, which Ellington himself had helped transform, his dame sophistique deserved a more haute couture.

December 03, 2007 · 0 comments

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Harry 'Sweets' Edison: Sophisticated Lady

You may associate Edison with the invention of the light bulb, but fans of the American popular song prefer to remember another Edison, namely the trumpeter whose tasty brass stylings adorned those timeless Sinatra recordings. Singers always loved Sweets, and his trumpet work weaves in and out of other classic recordings by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan. No surprise here Harry 'Sweets' Edison played the trumpet the way great vocalists sing. He builds his solos in breathy, conversational phrases, telling a story along the way. This intimate trumpet and piano duet on an Ellington standard gives Edison room to work his magic. Sweets is bittersweet here, and every note contributes towards creating a rich aural mood. By all means, enjoy him behind the great American singers, but also hear what he could do when he stood out as the star of the show.

November 28, 2007 · 0 comments

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