The Album (CD reissue)

Art Tatum And Ben Webster

Essential Jazz Classics, 2009

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


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 inspired the generation of jazz pianists who followed him; Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and many others built upon the legacy he left behind.

Tatum played within tight structures and rarely ventured 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 followed him.

His genius was 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; the majority of his performances and recorded work featured only his piano. Every once in awhile, however, he would assemble a trio or quartet, which brings us to Ben Webster.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

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-‘30s and would go on to a stellar career both as a solo artist and as a member of a number of 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. They were backed by Red Callender on bass and Bill Douglass on drums. The eight tracks that comprised The Album were all recorded September 11th, 1956. It would also be Tatum’s last recording session as he passed away shortly after its completion.

The first track, “All The Things You Are,” sets the tone for what will follow. Tatum begins with a solo as he explores the song’s structure and theme. Webster then joins in the exploration with his smoky sax sound. While Tatum tends to dominate, Webster’s sax meanders in, out and around Tatum’s piano to create a dual sound that constantly splits and reunites.

“Gone With The Wind” finds Tatum literally bending the melody with one hand while playing a number of runs with the other. It is an excellent example of his layering technique and creating a two piano sound. Webster provides a nice counterpoint in support.

Webster later said that he considered his performance on “Night And Day” one of the best of his career. He takes more of a dual lead as his pure tone just waifs over the melody established by Tatum.

There are four bonus tracks which are very interesting. “Gone With The Wind,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Night and Day,” and “Where Or When” are all repeated but here as solo performances by Tatum. They allow the listener to compare his solo and group styles.

The Album by Ben Webster and Art Tatum is considered on of the best jazz releases of all time. The two geniuses who created this wonderful work are now slipping from the public consciousness, but this reissue should restore the luster of their virtuosity and hopefully their popularity as it remains a testament to two of the most influential American jazz musicians of the twentieth century.

Rating: A

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© 2009 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Essential Jazz Classics, and is used for informational purposes only.