\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Art Tatum: More Than Human (Read 2712 times)

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Art Tatum: More Than Human
« on: May 02, 2019, 04:30:35 AM »
I mentioned in another post that I wished I could drink as much as Art Tatum did. Perhaps some of you have not heard about this aspect of the Tatum legend, which is discussed in James Lester's excellent biography, Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum.

According to a man who knew him well and spent much time with him, Tatum, throughout most of his career, normally drank the following in every 24 hour period:

-- One case (24 cans or bottles) of beer, plus:
-- Two quarts of whiskey

People lacking serious experience with alcohol cannot possibly appreciate the outlandishness of this. It is a level of consumption far beyond what for many ordinary people would be a life-disrupting case of severe alcoholism.

But -- and here is where we gaze through the portal into a truly unknown world -- Tatum was at the same time one of the greatest pianists who ever lived!

It is utterly incomprehensible.

It is more than human.

Offline compline

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 306
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #1 on: May 02, 2019, 04:36:33 AM »
Maxim ,  Your post about alcohol consumption should be in the section - Anything but Piano.   You could start a - What are you reading now thread in there.



 

Offline j_tour

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2219
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #2 on: May 03, 2019, 02:33:54 PM »
I don't agree that this thread should be moved — I wouldn't say it's a model to aspire to, but it does show just how adaptable some people are to conditions that would fell other people pretty quickly.  It might as well apply to Paul Wittgenstein or other one-armed pianists, or Horace Parlan and his missing fingers.

Yes, that is an awful lot of alcohol.  But, over twenty-four hours (assuming he didn't sleep and didn't have some kind of funnel system devised to keep infusing him with nutrients), and for people of different sizes and habitudes, I believe it.

I know a "fifth" (US term — it's supposed to mean a fifth of a gallon, but is in fact 750 ml) of liquor is about seventeen drinks.  A quart is a healthy bit more, but I don't feel like doing the math in my head.  And, from what I hear, especially back in the US Prohibition days, they sold things like "flat fifths" and I don't know if the average person could eyeball a bottle and say if it was a quart or a fifth or whatever.  So, that actual amount may be in question.

And the beer?  I don't know if it was the now-standard "PBR/Miller High Life/Bud" 5%, but aside from getting some pretty healthy gastric effects, that much alcohol and more can easily be a breakfast for some otherwise high-functioning people.  I've heard.

And, yes, to clarify, it is perfectly reasonable to dink the equivalent of twenty or thirty units of alcohol in the morning, over a few hours, and have a perfectly reasonable, respectable day.  After work?  Well, have some more.  Socialize, have a few, then get home and have a dozen more and go to sleep.  Rinse and repeat.  It's not healthy, but it's not something inhuman.  It's unreasonable, and not good for you, but I think a lot more people who seem "straight" — shower, shave, steady hands, no mistakes — do similarly than you might think.  Is it "sustainable" as a lifestyle?  Probably not, but it can work for at least a few years until something gives out physically or you start making mistakes in dosage.

And get at night and start to playing?  Well, some people aren't going to turn down some gifts from the audience.  Just keep going.

I'd say he was just being a professional about it, even if he didn't feel much like socializing until he knocked down twenty or thirty drinks/beers over a long "breakfast" the next day.

I'm not a medical doctor or anything, but IME, if he was drinking that much daily or even regularly per day, he likely would have had serious problems if he stopped, especially in the days before benzodiazepines as a treatment. 

And his playing would have suffered, even if he weren't to have died from seizure or something else.  His playing might have suffered just because he was in an unfamiliar environment, physiologically and psychologically.

I recall Dr. John/Mac Rebennack in his autobiography talking about what a PITA it was starting to play solo piano jobs after cutting out H from his diet. 

You know the old story/joke about somebody sees "[insert bass player/whoever]" playing wasted drunk and asking him "How can you play like that, man, after drinking so much?"

"It's easy, kid, I practice that way!"


My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline cuberdrift

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 549
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #3 on: May 13, 2019, 12:54:48 AM »
The man died at 46. Alcoholism was the cause. The earth lost such a great talent who could have done so much more.

I understand Tatum was a good man in many ways...but, well, everyone has their flaws.


Online ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3853
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #4 on: May 13, 2019, 09:39:42 AM »
The man died at 46. Alcoholism was the cause. The earth lost such a great talent who could have done so much more.

I understand Tatum was a good man in many ways...but, well, everyone has their flaws.

I agree, a horrible waste of life. Waller was probably worse though. The public wanted a fat, drunken clown, not a serious musician, so he gave them one and paid for it at thirty-nine with his life. We cannot criticise those people, their lives must have been inexorably difficult compared to ours, but for me at least, the joy and power of the wonderful music they left us and the inherent sadness of their lives remains a poignant contrast.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #5 on: May 15, 2019, 05:26:25 PM »
Waller was in decent health (for a drunken jazzer) when he died at the age of 39. He was tired out, damp with sweat, probably drunk, and unfortunately went to sleep in an unheated cabin on a train travelling through the Midwest in wintertime.

That's what I call a preventable, accidental death. He probably could have kept going for another ten years or so before the drink really killed him.

Offline thalbergmad

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 16663
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #6 on: May 17, 2019, 04:17:14 AM »
The drinking capability of Andre the Giant makes Tatum look teetotal, but he was somewhat larger.

Thal
Curator/Director
Concerto Preservation Society

Offline ahinton

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 12053
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #7 on: May 17, 2019, 08:32:37 AM »
The drinking capability of Andre the Giant makes Tatum look teetotal, but he was somewhat larger.

Thal
What puzzles me is how he managed to maintain the co-ordination at the piano that he did - hard enough for a sightless person but for someone who habitually consumed such vast quantities of booze it would seem utterly improbable.

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline ronde_des_sylphes

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2739
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #8 on: May 17, 2019, 09:10:29 AM »
Read the subsection of Career (on alcohol consumption) here:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Werbeniuk  ;D

Online ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3853
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #9 on: May 17, 2019, 11:12:26 AM »
John Gill, the ragtime and stride pianist was another case in point. Gill could play the piano all night full of booze, and at parties after ragtime festivals, he had a big truck with a tank of beer parked outside the house. He actually died in Perth while walking out to buy beer.

Aside from being perpetually drunk these people must have spent half their time in the lavatory.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline ahinton

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 12053
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #10 on: May 17, 2019, 07:41:54 PM »
Busoni (Booze-oni?) is credited (or debited?) as having claimed that he would want three quarters of a bottle of champagne prior to giving a performance in order to raise his heart rate sufficiently and, of course, his premature death from renal-related complaints was hardly uninfluenced by this practice...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline georgey

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 936
Re: Art Tatum: More Than Human
«Reply #11 on: May 17, 2019, 08:40:41 PM »
I wonder why many people turn to alcohol.  My father died 40 years ago at age 59 due to his overdrinking and alcoholism.  To my luck, I learned at a very early age (from seeing how it destroyed him) to stay away from all unhealthy substances.  My father started drinking heavily every night when he started teaching at IUP as a full professor in the philosophy department.  I never asked him why he drank so much.  His father was also an alcoholic for most of his life that also died from over-drinking before he turned age 60( before I was born).

Maybe the following was the reason?: Alcohol has wonderful anxiolytic (“anti-anxiety”) properties, meaning it can inhibit anxiety or the feeling of stress.

Does anyone know why Tatum drank?  Maybe it helped him perform due to anxiety?  I regard him as one of the greatest pianists of all time.  The fact that he was mostly blind makes him appear super-human to me.