When it comes to jazz, I say the smaller the better. (A convenient motto overall, I admit.) It’s just easier to follow that way. So I like small combos, and love solo piano.
Budd Powell, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Scott Joplin (or at least the person who plays his music),
and Keith Jarrett have all made wonderful records by just sitting down at their pianos and playing. (Okay, I lied about Errol Garner -he gets help -but you get the point.)
And now I’ve got one by Art Tatum, who plays like a mofo. Of course, as impressive as virtuosity is, it won’t matter if the record sucks. So how is this one?
Quite nice, thank you. Tatum plays the standards, which until recently I couldn’t have cared less about. But he manages to play them straight enough to help a boob like me recognize them, and, by putting his own stamp on them, makes me like them like I never have before.
There's a generous 65 minutes of graceful, pretty and not at all intimidating music here. Just put it on first thing in the morning, and go do your... early morning stuff.
By the way, who's better? Tatum, Powell, Monk, Garner, Joplin, Jarrett or Tatum?
Well, let’s see. This is how I’d classify them:
Monk - With his utterly weird songs and playing, he’s by far the Most Fun.
Powell - Very, very impressive but I hear he doesn't always show up. But when he does The Snazziest.
Garner - The audience sounds very, uh, white. So that makes him The Crowdpleaser.
Joplin - Pretty and graceful, but kinda slow. He’s The Relaxer.
Jarrett - Your Sensitive Artiste friend from the 70s, who you keep hanging around with because, although he goes on a bit, he’s basically a good guy. And purty as hell when focused.
Each of the above artists have hit more homers, but Tatum combines technical skill, exquisite taste and expressiveness, which together give him the higher batting average.
Does that make him the best? How the hell should I know? Anyway, like I said, it doesn’t really matter how good the player is. It’s about how good the record is. (So why did I just put us through that little exercise, you ask? Just let it go, okay?)
All I know is that the piano is my second favorite instrument and Tatum is now my second favorite piano player. (Ah, so who’s the first? Powell, I think. But Monk sure is fun!)
With jazz, I'm never sure if I ever get to the bottom of the music, even when there's only one instrument playing. So it’s too soon to tell if this will be my absolute favorite piano record, but it will do just fine while I find out. So the grade is anticipatory - where I think I'll end up with it. Right now, it's a pleasure all the way through. A-
When to Play It: It’s perfect for first thing in the morning.
When Not to Play It: When your company is comprised of a bunch of clods.