Arthur Tatum Jr. (/ˈteɪtəm/, October 13, 1909 – November 5, 1956 Toledo, OH) was an American jazz pianist who is widely regarded as one of the greatest in his field. From early in his career, Tatum’s technical ability was regarded by fellow musicians as extraordinary. Many pianists attempted to copy him; others questioned their own skills after encountering him, and some even switched instruments in response. In addition to being acclaimed for his virtuoso technique, Tatum extended the vocabulary and boundaries of jazz piano far beyond his initial stride influences, and established new ground in jazz through innovative use of reharmonization, voicing, and bitonality.
Tatum grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where he began playing piano professionally and had his own radio program, rebroadcast nationwide, while still in his teens. He left Toledo in 1932 and had residencies as a solo pianist at clubs in major urban centers including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In that decade, he settled into a pattern that he followed for most of his career – paid performances followed by long after-hours playing, all accompanied by prodigious consumption of alcohol. He was said to be more spontaneous and creative in these after-hours venues, and although the drinking did not negatively affect his playing, it did damage his health.
In the 1940s, Tatum led a commercially successful trio for a short time and began playing in more formal jazz concert settings, including at Norman Granz-produced Jazz at the Philharmonic events. His popularity diminished towards the end of the decade, as he continued to play in his own style, ignoring the rise of bebop. Granz recorded Tatum extensively in solo and small group formats in the mid-1950s, with the last session occurring only two months before the pianist’s death from uremia at the age of 47.