The Art of Jazz
By Brian Beirl D.D.S.
In 1920 the evening crowd strolling along Toledo’s Madison Street was experiencing the sounds of the centuries colliding. The culture of America was about to roar. The Great War was over and ragtime was morphing into the sensual sounds of jazz.
Peering into one of prohibition’s illicit taverns, we see an eleven year old Arthur Tatum seated at a vintage player piano. He places his fingers over the rapidly moving ghost- like keys, listening to the music, memorizing, and mentally connecting each note to each key. The youngster stares straight ahead with unseeing eyes, having been blinded by childhood diseases and a severe gang beating. The scrolling piano is his teacher.
Art Tatum became the greatest jazz pianist of all time. When he played his fingers were a blur producing astonishing rhythmic and harmonic complexities. This extraordinary man is a profound example of what can be accomplished with a passion, and not being fettered by any physical or emotional baggage.
This amazing story is not complete unless you know the workings of a player piano. Player piano music scrolls are the equivalent of having two piano players playing together. Our young, undaunted, musician unwittingly learned to play the piano as if he had four hands. He became the greatest, because he did not limit himself by any knowledge to the contrary.
What can we accomplish without self imposed barriers, or “helpful” other’s limited thinking? Make your world a better and more beautiful place by becoming the best you can be.
"Maybe this will explain Art Tatum. If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum play ... everyone there will sound like an amateur." - Teddy Wilson
Legend has it that classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz was so awed by Tatum's wizardry that it brought him to tears.