I have a dear friend, an accomplished jazz pianist, who used to attach the following tag to his e-mail: "I believe in God and Art Tatum — not necessarily in that order." I too appreciate Tatum's peerless mastery of keys and harmonies, his signature inventiveness, impeccable inner metronome, feathery runs, and pioneering ability to bridge the stride before him with the bop that lay ahead. But I can't take too much of him at one sitting, and I finally recognized why: his density simply exhausts me. After about fifteen minutes of baroque tinkling, I usually need a break, and might reach for something with a less abstracted and stronger groove.
Having uttered that heresy (sorry, George!), I still believe that Tatum is essential in bite-sized portions. This collection distills 20 tracks distilled from the 7-CD Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces box, each recorded between 1953 and 1955 and produced by Norman Granz. The Best of provides nearly 80 minutes of Tatumic transformations, as he turns the pop tunes of his era into intricate inventions. The longer tracks like "Body and Soul" and "In a Sentimental Mood" are especially intriguing, since they are more fully developed and Tatum's ability to transcend cliché is most evident (for example, his witty interweaving of "Swanee" in the latter is nothing less than brilliant).
This recording is a complement to the Best of the Pablo Group Masterpieces , also newly released. Tatum worshippers like my friend, regular fans, and those new to his genius will no longer wonder what all the fuss is about.
Track Listing: Too Marvelous for Words, I've Got the World on a String, Stompin' at the Savoy, You Go to My Head, Makin' Whoopee, Stardust, Crazy Rhythm, Mean to Me, Body and Soul, Ain't Misbehavin', I Cover the Waterfront, Would You Like to Take a Walk?, Cherokee, In a Sentimental Mood, Night and Day, Tea for Two, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Over the Rainbow, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Someone to Watch Over Me