In the mid 1940s, the jazz clubs “Downbeat” and the “Three Deuces,” located at 52nd Street in New York City, were the hottest musical items in town. And when the legendary, and legally blind pianist Art Tatum was on the cards, everybody was aware that “God was in the house tonight.” And one evening, that included a disguised Vladimir Horowitz, who was lurking just inside the club’s entrance. The story goes that Horowitz was dumbfounded, and later remarked that he could not believe his eyes and ears. It might all be musical yarn, but Horowitz supposedly kept returning over and over to hear Art Tatum improvise. Over several months, Horowitz was working on his own arrangement of the jazz classic “Tea for Two,” and he was eager to show Art Tatum his adaptation. Tatum listened carefully, and then sat down at the piano and played his own version of the piece. Amazed by Tatum’s interpretation, Horowitz asked where he could buy a score, to which Tatum supposedly replied, “Oh, I was just improvising.” In a later interview, Horowitz said that from that day on, he never played “Tea for Two” in public again! And if you listen to Tatum’s version, you immediately know why! But this story is not finished yet. Apparently Horowitz was asked to name the greatest pianist in the world, to which he replied without hesitation, “Art Tatum.” Subsequently Horowitz remarked, “If Art Tatum took up classical music seriously, I’d quit my job the next day.” Have a listen to Art Tatum playing Chopin, and I let you be the judge whether Horowitz is more comfortable in the world of jazz or Tatum in the world of classical music?
Tea for Two, excerpt (Vladimir Horowitz)
Tea for Two, (Art Tatum)
Frédéric Chopin: Valse in C# Minor, Op. 64, No. 2, (Art Tatum)