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Who is Art Tatum Dating? By Steve Provizer

SOURCE: Published: 2011-02-19
Was the saturation coverage of George Shearing's recent death commensurate with his musical contributions? To my ears, Shearing's music is pleasurable and well-crafted but unexciting. He was capable of playing any style, but the chosen format of his most well-known groups was harmonically consonant and the soloing, while very adept, lacked edge.

Shearing's coverage was the equal of that given to Billy Taylor. Taylor was a creative musician, not a musical innovator, but his work as activist/mentor/educator kept his profile very high. The attention made sense.

Shearing's sheer longevity may be vaguely at play here, as is the rarity of a jazz musician who sold millions of records, but media exposure is the big player. Shearing, while blind, was a prodigy, white-British even-and a jocular pun-maker. In a hyphenated word: media-genic.

For comparison, and kicks, let's throw Art Tatum into the equation.

Like Shearing, Tatum was blind and a prodigy, but his musical impact was widespread and unassailable.

While Shearing was a quirky, but user-friendly public representative of the jazz world, Tatum seems to have been something of a cipher. Comments on Tatum's music are many, while those on his personality are few. He was not photogenic.

Despite Tatum's musical contributions, there are very few obits in 1956, the year of his death. In fact, there are 2 different dates listed for Tatum's death: Nov 4th and 5th. You can throw some of the blame on jazz magazines, which are notoriously derelict at putting their old stuff online. Some gleanings:

Wikipedia deaths give you Lugosi, Brecht and Pollock, but not Tatum. Wikipedia Commons does list him.

A brief Jet Obituary The Times Obituary of the era. Jazz Monthly in Britain had an obit A brief graf in Billboard

Apart from jazz websites, there are a couple of “modern" mentions of Tatum: One site says: “But even the passing of a giant such as Art Tatum didn't create much stir elsewhere in the world. The Presidential election was on most people's minds, the crisis in Hungary and the Cold War all grabbed headlines, relegating the death of this true genius to the back pages in the obituary notices." I'm not sure the Cold War really explains it.

The other contemporary non-jazz site that references Tatum offers the vital information: Who Art Tatum is Dating.

So, will a media-genic musician will always draw more attention? Stupid question.


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This story appears courtesy of Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog.
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