From the Publisher
Starred review, Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2007:
“Fusing Parker’s artistic talent and passion for jazz (he’s a musician, too), this sensitively embellished biography is totally on time.”
Starred review, Booklist, February 2, 2008:
“The simple, direct language shows the power of the music for both Tatum and his listeners.”
Starred review, School Library Journal, February 2008:
“Breathing life into words about music for young children is never easy, but Parker makes it appear effortless.”
Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 2008:
"It's a joyful portrait of an innovative artist who was peerless in music ... A jazz musician himself, Parker brings a deep love and understanding to his subject."
Keeping the text brief, Parker employs a lyrical, first-person narration that often echoes the pianist's style…Parker's masterful watercolor and ink illustrations, with their loose lines and washes of color, also evoke Tatum's dazzling music.
The Washington Post
Parker, who illustrated Ballet of the Elephantsand Action Jackson, makes his writing debut with a biography of famed jazz pianist Art Tatum, which takes some creative license in its straightforward, first-person narrative. "Bad eyes can't keep me from playing the piano," says a young Tatum. "My hands get to know the keys, the short black ones on top and long white ones below. I play more and more. And more." The uncluttered storytelling offers a chronological journey of Tatum's rise to fame: his first recital in church; a night of playing moon-themed songs while neighborhood children catch fireflies; his first gig at a bar. From the twins next door who help him walk to school to a café owner who lets him use his player piano, the story incorporates the people who were important in Tatum's early life-his hardworking parents, foremost. A subtle sophistication shines through Parker's easygoing yet dynamic watercolors. Roughly hewn sketch lines give the characters an almost abstract quality, but their faces and gestures project emotion nonetheless, as in vignettes of a bartender smiling contentedly or Tatum's mother sitting in the shadows by a radio, both listening to Tatum play. Parker's unhurried account could inspire visions of jazz greatness among young musicians. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Parker recreates the youth of jazz pianist Art Tatum as simply told in first person. Born in Toledo to a mechanic father and a mother who sings and occasionally plays the piano, young Tatum plays with the keyboard as soon as he can reach it. His poor eyesight only makes the piano more important in his life as he grows. He begins to play in many locations around town. One day he plays on a radio program, leading to invitations from all over the country. Parker tries to include what Tatum's feelings might have been about the power of music as he travels and grows. Transparent watercolors encourage us to follow the pianist's development as a performer, showing him in a variety of contexts and clothing but always at the keyboard, almost as if he were one with the instrument. The artist pictures the different audiences as they listen but even more as they seem to move to the music. The front endpapers show an overflow theater audience attending a stage performance. The back endpapers depict a decorated dance hall equally crowded with dancing couples. Perhaps the most telling image is the last one of Tatum alone at the piano surrounded by mists of memory. Parker has added notes about his memory of Tatum, details about the rest of Tatum's life, and a bibliography. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4- Breathing life into words about music for young children is never easy, but Parker makes it appear effortless. Perhaps this is due, in part, to his own understandings as a jazz musician. His first-person account about the early years of Tatum's life is a feast for the senses. Beautifully paced, spare sentences accompany introductory watercolors of the legendary jazz pianist's family. Viewers watch the toddler on tiptoe reaching for the keys that provided delight to him from this early stage. As the narrative develops and Tatum's impaired vision begins to fade, the lines lengthen, incorporating the sounds, smells, and physical sensations that were much clearer to him. Listeners can imagine the scents of furniture polish and flowers as the boy plays in church or the vibration of his father's footsteps as he dances to his son's music in the living room. Parker's palette and style vary to create just the right ambience, with compositions ranging from a brightly lit snowscape with realistic figures racing down the path to moody, impressionistic backgrounds swirling around Tatum playing his beloved "Humoresque" on the road as a young man. Notes from the author describe his personal encounter with the musician and provide an overview of his life. A bibliography of adult resources is included; there is little available for children. Showcase this title with Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (Scholastic, 1992) and Andrea Davis Pinkney's Ella Fitzgerald (Hyperion, 2002) along with some CDs for a joint-jumping, heart-pumping ride.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Renowned illustrator Parker supplies both an affecting text and luminescent watercolors in homage to the virtuosic Tatum. Blending information and imagination, the plainspoken, first-person-present text examines the jazz pianist's childhood and musical development, progressing from school and church functions to Toledo bars, the club circuit and New York. Parker's phrases perfectly correlate with his subject: Early details merit short simple declaratives ("This is my father. He's a mechanic."), while Tatum's near-blindness obviates evocations of sounds and smells rather than sights: "I love our church-the way it smells like soap, furniture polish, and flowers; the way footstep sounds echo off the walls." Ink-lined watercolors revel in as resplendent an interplay of hue and tone as Tatum's improvisations. Sunny childhood scenes (a charming spot depicts toddler Arthur, playing the family piano on tiptoe) yield to clubs' sultry blue light. Gorgeous abstract washes dial Tatum's legendary extemporizations. Fusing Parker's artistic talent and passion for jazz (he's a musician, too), this sensitively embellished biography is totally on time. (author's and biographical notes, bibliography of adult sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)