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BOOK REVIEWS

Art Tatum
Eine Biographie von Mark Lehmstedt
(A biography by Mark Lehmstedt).
Lehmstedt Verlag, Leipzig, 2009.
ISBN ISBN 978-3-937146-80-5

Superbly produced, with a wealth of excellent illustrations, this attractively produced 320-page hardback (22 x 24 cm) is written in German. Unlike Jazz Routes, reviewed above, and also in German, Art Tatum contains no parallel English text.

Mark Lehmstedt appears both to have written and produced the book, an increasingly common trend encountered in the world of specialist music hardbacks. Clearly, the author has based much of the content of Art Tatum on extant American documentation and articles. The book is most carefully researched, to the extent that a German friend of mine, after reading some of the text, came to the firm opinion that Lehmstedt (who is based in Leipzig) has either translated much of the German text from English, or has lived in an English speaking country for a long while. My friend's observation is a comment on the details of subtleties of style and vocabulary of the written German (an analysis that is beyond my level of competence at the German language, I confess), and should not be understood as criticism of the book's substance, or of the author. Clearly, Lehmstedt has produced a handsome in-depth biography to such a level of perfection that one was shocked to see that the photograph of Buddy De Franco on page 263 has been reversed (Buddy appears to be playing a left-handed clarinet), in itself an unimportant slip. There are no written musical examples.

The biography reconstructs the often blurred traces of the life of the blind black piano virtuoso from Toledo. From stories of many contemporaries and fellow musicians, from press reports of the time, and from comment on his work, there emerges a fascinating portrait of Tatum's unique world. Even a facsimile of Tatum's birth certificate is included. We trace the pianist's development, read of  his first appearance in New York in 1932, and learn how Tatum's technique was frequently compared to that of great concert pianists of the stature of Vladimir Horowitz. The book also offers a comprehensive discography of recordings by Art Tatum, together with colour photos of record labels.

One can only hope that an edition in English will follow in the near future.

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, March 2010. Reproduced by kind permission of the editor.

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