Pete Recommends…Art Tatum Meets Ben Webster
Each month Peter Batten recommends a recording that jazz fans may wish to add to their personal library.
Jazz fans have always had mixed feelings about the impresario Norman Granz. His “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concerts, which began in the 1940s, certainly provided work and public recognition for some outstanding musicians. Unfortunately, although some great music was played, the concerts pandered to a taste for frantic ensembles, screaming trumpets and the idea that a jam session should be a musical battle.
But there was much more to Norman Granz. He was a sincere jazz fan and his particular favourites were the great musicians who came to the fore in the 1930s. When he was able to launch his own recording label, “Verve”, in the 1950s he gave several of these veterans the chance to record their music with complete freedom.
The great pianist Art Tatum was given the fullest scope. He was encouraged to record 9 solo albums, while at the same time he was able to team up with some of Granz’s other favourites for quartet or quintet recordings. The very best of these is the session which I recommend this month. Tatum went into a Los Angeles studio on the 11th of September 1956 with the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, Red Callender on Bass and Bill Douglas on Drums. The mutual respect that Tatum and Webster had for each other is felt from the very first bar. The quality of the music which they recorded that day is truly astonishing. If Norman Granz had done nothing else for jazz apart from this recording, he would still deserve our gratitude.
[This session is available as “Art Tatum, Ben Webster, The Album” on Essential Jazz Classics CD EJC 55403. Peter can be contacted on 01273 735252]