Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

tatum.jpgPiano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum (Schwartz and Wade, $16.99) by Robert Andrew Parker is a peek into the young life of an amazing improvisational jazz pianist.  Parker, a lifelong fan of Tatum’s, felt that most of the scholarship surrounding the musician focused on his adult years.  What was Tatum’s childhood like?  Born with severely limited vision, Art Tatum’s eyesight only grew worse as he got older.  Fortunately, there was a piano in the family home, and, as soon as he could reach the keyboard, Tatum began wearing out the keys.  Tatum’s hearing and his sense of feel had to fill in for missing visual cues.  By ten, he was playing in church and at parties.  While the neighborhood children ran outside on summer nights catching fireflies, Tatum played “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “Moonlight Bay” to serenade them.  His distinctive playing style evolved from a pastiche of sources: radio, listening to live performances, and some formal training.  But it was his ability to get inside a song, to feel it as he played, that distinguished Tatum from other musicians.  What a wonderful message for kids, to turn a dis-ability into a different ability. Parker’s moody illustrations and his succinct poetic text complement the story’s subject matter.

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