Art Tatum (1909-1956) is recognized as one of the best — if not the best — jazz pianists of the first half of the twentieth century. His influence would inspire a generation of jazz pianists who would follow him, including Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea among many others who would build upon his legacy.
Tatum played within tight structures, rarely venturing into the wild improvisations that dominated jazz in the second half of the twentieth century. He was also more melodic than many of the artists who would follow him.
His genius lay in his accuracy and timing. At times his playing could be frenetic yet each note is distinguishable from the next. His sound is instantly recognizable by its clarity. He was also a genius at changing chord progressions within the melody of a song. His virtuosity was such that when listening to his recordings, this one included, you will swear there is more than one piano being played.
Art Tatum was primarily a solo artist as the majority of his performances and recorded work featured only his piano. Every once in a while, however, he would assemble a trio or quartet, which brings us to Ben Webster.
Webster was a tenor sax player and contemporary of Tatum. He began his career as a member of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in the mid-thirties and would go on to a stellar career both as a solo artist and as a member of numerous groups until his death in 1972. He was known as a swing artist who fit Tatum’s style perfectly.
Legendary producer and label owner Norman Granz managed to lure Tatum and Webster into the studio together. Backed by Red Callender on bass and Bill Douglass on drums, Tatum and Webster recorded all eight tracks that comprise The Album on September 11, 1956. It would be Tatum’s last recording session as he would pass away not long after its completion.