He didn’t know any better. He was a self-taught musician whose creativity and technique was praised both by classically trained virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz and jazz giant Oscar Peterson. He was remarkable in that he was blind in one eye and could only partially see out of the other one.
Despite his physical limitations, he refused to give up his dream. As a boy in the 1920’s, he idolized Fats Waller and wanted to play like him. So, he listened to every possible source he could – both radio and phonograph. (Think very large, prehistoric CD) He taught himself to play using Braille and piano rolls. He listened. He imitated. He copied. He practiced. He improved.
That’s where he started. Where he ended up only demonstrates what can happen when you shed your self-imposed limitations and embrace your expectations. I hope you enjoy Art Tatum.
The really amazing thing is that Art Tatum didn’t realize that sometimes, when he was listening to a recording, he was hearing two separate parts being played by two pianists. He simply learned both parts and played them simultaneously. He learned them so well that years later, when jazz artist Oscar Peterson heard Art playing, he thought there actually were two people playing.
Art Tatum found that dreams can come true in real life. One night he visited a club to hear his idol, Fats Waller, perform live. Upon hearing that Art was there, Fats told the crowd, “I just play the piano. But God is in the house tonight.”
As parents, there are times that we limit our children in order to protect them from harm. In some instances, however, limits, especially false ones, can hinder or even defeat us even before we get started. What if Art Tatum had known that there were two people playing instead of just one? Would that knowledge, that limitation, have kept him from developing into one of the most highly acclaimed jazz pianists of all time?
This is why I believe that Kindermusik can be so important in a child’s life. It is process-based, not performance-oriented. It fosters and encourages a child’s creativity. This is why I encourage parents to observe their children in class and follow their lead in instrument play or creative movement and to scaffold (or build) off of it with a slightly different twist to it. By opening your eyes to the possibilities, you limit the limitations.