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is a clever and completely appropriate bit of artist and repertoire marketing. Art Tatum (1909-1956) possessed perhaps the most complete and thorough knowledge of the Great American Songbook (and traditional classical music) and the most commanding piano technique of any American jazz artist. Anecdotal stories of his near-supernatural playing abound. With Art TatumImprovisations, the focus is not on the artist's original compositions, but his interpretations of other's compositions. This approach correctly casts improvisation as composition in real time, giving improvisation equal billing with composition.
Add to this that this recording is released on Naxos's American Classics Series, focused on American composers of classical music, and the A&R vision becomes complete? and it could not have started with a better American icon. Pianist Steven Mayer deftly approaches a handful of transcribed Tatum war-horses, turning them into the "classical" pieces they are. Tatum's interpretations are complex both in time and harmony. The great pianist was always wont to push the envelope, as evidenced on pieces like "Tea for Two," Dovrak's "Humoresque," and Massenet's "Elegy." Mayer captures well this harmonic expansion.
One might rightly ask why one should devote time to Art TatumImprovisations, performed by another pianist, when so much excellent Tatum is available. The answer is two-fold. First, Tatum's final recordings were made shortly before his death in 1956. The sonic perfection of Art TatumImprovisations is far superior to the Tatum sides. Second, this new recording properly frames the art of Tatum, improvisatory jazz as the true American Classical Music.
Track Listing: 1. Tea For Two; 2. St. Louis Blues; 3. Tiger Rag; 4. Aunt Hagar's Blues; 5. Humoresque; 6. Sweet Lorraine; 7. Get Happy; 8. Jitterbug Waltz; 9. Tatum Pole Boogie; 10. Cherokee; 11. Lover, Come Back To Me!; 12. Elegy; 13. Hallelujah; 14. Willow Weep For Me; 15. Emaline; 16. Yesterdays; 17. I Know That You Know.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.