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Back to top. His self-taught fingering included amazing two-fingered runs and he held his hands in a flat manner just above the keys.
This gave viewers the impression that his hands scarcely moved at all while his fingers flew like hummingbirds, which added to the puzzle and mystique of how on earth he did what he did. Tatum was ambidextrous, able to play anything with either hand, cross voices and sometimes give the effect of two pianists playing four hands.
It was deceptive. After all, this was a trick used by society and cocktail pianists ranging from Eddy Duchin to Liberace, and there is no question that he did not use this trick in his earlier recordings, in the few after-hours recordings that exist, or in his mids trio performances with guitarist Tiny Grimes and bassist Slam Stewart.
These include performances of Sweet Lorraine , Get Happy and Tea for Two , each of them different in several respects even from his very first solo recordings of these songs. In one of the few interviews he gave, with Voice of America jazz DJ Willis Conover, he was asked why he played some of his tunes in person the same way he played them on his records. This, too, is astonishing: how many musicians can remember the improvisations they played on a record 15 years later?
His ear and his technical facility remained astounding throughout his career. Upon arriving, Tatum heard one of the other pianists playing, and there were several there, including Teddy Wilson, Marlowe Morris and Billy Kyle. All of the musicians were amazed.
Which just stunned everybody, that this guy had it all worked out before he went up there. Recently an album of his solos was released in which his early recordings were transferred to a MIDI. The MIDI could play them, but not with the warmth and color that Tatum imparted to the recorded versions.
Initially a young sensation, he made his first records for Brunswick before being invited by Jack Kapp to jump over to his new Decca label. He recorded only a dozen solo titles for Decca in before being let go; his only activity for the next three years was a privately-recorded session in Hollywood in September and a rejected Decca master of Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle in December of that year. Then he returned to Decca in for four band numbers and four more solos; saw two whole solos issued; then in , Kapp became generous and allowed him to make 15 titles one of them, Sweet Emaline, My Gal was rejected.