Art Tatum [Storyville]
Art Tatum was heralded as being among the very best jazz pianists for much of his career, though his rapid-fire runs at the keyboard intimidated all but the very best musicians to some degree. As a result, there were long stretches when he wasn't recorded all that much, until Norman Granz hired him for marathon solo and small group dates during the last few years of the pianist's life. But collectors recognized the value in preserving many of his broadcast performances, radio transcriptions, and even a few private recordings made in clubs or private homes. This ten-CD boxed set includes over 675 minutes of music, including music from throughout almost the entire length of his career. While the sound quality isn't as good as commercial records made during the period, the audio restoration makes these selections very listenable. Tatum fans will seek out the solo tracks first, particularly the pianist's high-flying arrangements like "Yesterdays," "Taboo," and "Begin the Beguine." There are a number of trio tracks to choose from, though the best results come from his meeting with guitarist Les Paul, one of the few string players who could play on Tatum's level. Most of the music on the first nine CDs appeared on widely scattered and long unavailable LPs on various labels, though each of them was individually issued by Storyville. Almost all of the performances on disc ten make their commercial debut in this collection. Tatum's meeting with the young guitarist Tal Farlow is superb with excellent audio, while the club meeting with organist Joe Mooney shows the pianist in a more relaxed mood in "Moonglow," though the fireworks come out in the furious "Three Little Words," where he overshadows Mooney. Two after-hours performances from 1941 feature bassist Chocolate Williams, while vocalist Ann Robinson adds a bluesy vocal in "Stardust" and the overdramatic Ethel White takes her place for "Embraceable You." If Tatum fans who own the previous nine individual Storyville CDs from this collection think that this new material is not enough to make this boxed set worthy of purchasing, then the bonus DVD, with rare film and video footage of the pianist, should change their minds. There is a series of excerpts made for the March of Times movie newsreels (one master and several outtakes of "Tiny's Exercise," a brief theme used as a set closer), two performances from the film The Fabulous Dorseys, plus a show-stopping miniature of "Yesterdays" that came from The Spike Jones Show. The detailed liner notes and numerous photos add to the value of this essential collection of rare Art Tatum.