By Patrick J. Collins

I believe that Art Tatum somehow changed everything I understood about piano playing. Here was a man who played incredibly complex lines with insane left hand stride accompaniments, flawlessly -- and he was blind! When I listened to his recordings, I thought... "This can't even be a human... It's too perfect.". The speed and precision with which he executed his virtuosic runs was one thing; The fact that they were perfectly even metrically made his playing completely unique to me. It was at that moment that I realized, I could spot Art Tatum's playing instantly...anywhere. He was unbelievable technically, as well as musically.. And did I mention that he was blind?

As I was listening to his recordings, I decided that the only way I could begin to grasp the concepts of his playing was to study and immitate them. The unfortunate thing about the stride piano era is that a lot of the music was never really notated. It was more of an aural tradition, and a lot of these players learned their tunes straight from ear. There are very few Art Tatum piano solo books available, but what is out there is someone else's transcription --and I am a perfectionist, and I couldn't trust someone else's interpretation of what Art Tatum "may have" played. For me to truly familiarize myself with his style of playing, it required me to do my own transcription from ear, so that is exactly what I set out to do.

I chose as my first piece to transcribe, "Begin the Beguine" from a recording that was made in the 50's at a party hosted by Ray Heindorf, the music director at Warner Brothers Films. The process of transcribing is incredibly difficult, especially when taking on a monstrosity piano performance by Art Tatum. I used Spark XL by TC Electronic so that I could loop specific sections and hear the audio at half speed to ensure that I was playing note-for-note what Art did on the recording.

Here is an MP3 of the original recording from 1955.

Here is a video performance of me playing my transcription.
(You must have QUICKTIME 6 installed to watch this video)

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