Art Tatum – Ben Webster Quartet

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The coming together of Art Tatum and Ben Webster signalled the end of a marathon recording exercise under the auspices of Norman Granz featuring the pianist at a time when his career had seemingly stagnated, gigs being more difficult to secure and his style viewed by some as being outdated.

These particular sides are regarded by some as the pianist’s finest hour, in the company of a saxophonist carrying equal status in the jazz pantheon who was never likely to be overwhelmed by Tatum’s expansive approach to the keyboard.

The material had been chosen carefully, basically a set of ballads beloved by the pair, giving them both a familiar platform to tell their respective stories. In other hands this could have led to a repetitive experience but in the hands of these two masters, the results were perfection. 

Tatum was not in the best of health when he entered the studio, although there is no evidence in his playing to suggest any infirmity; the fact is that he would pass away a couple of months later from uremia. His technique is as impressive as ever, matching that of the most talented of modernists and in Webster he had the perfect foil, all breathy authority with lyricism to the fore. 

On this release the track running order has been altered from the original album and the alternate takes are an addition. The four sides with Teddy Wilson find the saxophonist in similar form as on the later tracks, in fact, aurally they could have come from the same date were it not for Wilson’s more elegant and understated working of the keys. 

The final piece, “All the Things You Are”, finds Tatum dissecting a familiar melody, giving it a reworking only he would contemplate. This final recording  is one taken from those earlier Granz produced sides, where the pianist had the studio to himself.

Discography
(1) All The Things You Are; Gone With The Wind; Have You Met Miss Jones ?; Night and Day; Where or When; My Ideal; My One and Only Love; Gone With the Wind (alt. take 1); Have You Met Miss Jones (alt. take); Gone With the Wind (alt. take 2); (2) My Funny Valentine; You’re Mine, You!; Sophisticated Lady; Love’s Away; (3) All the Things You Are (76.23)
(1) Art Tatum (p); Ben Webster (ts); Red Callender (b); Bill Douglass (d). Los Angeles, 11 September 1956.
(2) Ben Webster – Teddy Wilson Quartet: Ben Webster (ts); Teddy Wilson (p); Ray Brown (b); Jo Jones (d). New York, 30 March 1954.
(3) Art Tatum (p). Los Angeles, 29 December 1953.