[JPL] NYTimes.com: Steven Mayer Channels Art Tatum, but Adds His Own Flourishes at Keyboard Festival

Jim Wilke jwilke123 at comcast.net
Sat Jul 22 22:19:35 EDT 2006

Quoting the NY Times article:

"One of the most awestruck fans of the jazz pianist Art Tatum was the 
classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who heard the nearly blind Tatum 
play live in New York jazz clubs and collected his records. ...    
Tatum, who died in 1956 at 47, has another admirer from classical music 
in the pianist Steven Mayer, who has transcribed by ear, note for note, 
numerous Tatum improvisations and recorded them to acclaim on a Naxos 
Classical release. On Tuesday at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, 
Mr. Mayer concluded a varied recital program, part of the school’s 
two-week International Keyboard Institute and Festival, with three of 
his transcribed Tatum solos.

Though you can question the point of trying to replicate Tatum’s 
ingenious improvisations, you have to be impressed by Mr. Mayer’s 
devotion to the music and his technically brilliant playing."
Still, even Horowitz, a renowned transcriber, never took on Tatum.

(end quote)

I've heard that Horowitz did indeed transcribe some of Tatum's records, 
played them for Tatum and used them as encores on occasion.  Has anyone 
else heard that or can verify it?

Another "classical" pianist who transcribed jazz solos is Jean-Yves 
Thibaudet whose "Conversations with Bill Evans" CD  (London Decca, 
1997) is an interesting exercise and played with great skill, but seems 
like an effort to create a classical music out of original jazz.  It 
fools me for a moment but I soon realize it's not quite Bill Evans but 
a very good imitation. However, one might hope that a classical 
listener could be intrigued and make an effort to seek out the original.

Attempts to domesticate and "elevate" jazz to polite society go back at 
least to the 1924 Carnegie Hall debut of Gershwin's  "Rhapsody in Blue" 
which was purportedly "to make a Lady out of jazz."  Transcribing Art 
Tatum solos and playing them in a classical recital (however 
well-intentioned) has a similar feel to it. But then I've never been 
comfortable with jazz being described as "America's Classical Music" 
because (European) classical music is about sticking to the printed 
notes on the page and reproducing the composer's score accurately.  
Nothing wrong with that approach, but during its development Jazz was 
not about that. Great value was placed on improvisation, variation and 
uniquely identifiable tonal production. Idiosyncrasies were not only 
welcome, they were encouraged. Duke Ellington had a band full of unique 

"America's Classical Music" is a phrase useful to grant writers because 
most performing arts grants go to symphony orchestras, opera companies 
and chamber music societies and this attempts to put jazz on an equal 
footing with older traditions.  However I think it's too limiting to 
describe the variety of jazz and it downplays its most attractive 

Jim Wilke
Jazz After Hours, PRI

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