Thursday, June 19, 2008

Art Tatum Performs Live - June 2008

Imagine my surprise to see an announcement that Art Tatum (1909-1956) would be performing live in a few days. This was in a consumer electronics company advertisement in the New York Times West Coast Edition.

Here (in purple) is the exact text of the ad for J and R Music World; New York Times, Tuesday, June 17, 2008, page D8.
Art Tatum will be performing at Harlem's World Famous Apollo Theater on June 19th, 20th and 22nd.

Receive a FREE pair of tickets for the Friday show (6/20th) with purchase of his new CD, "Piano Starts Here: Live At the Shrine"

Price ($12.99) effective thru 6/21/08
Free ticket offer while supplies last.
Art Tatum Plays Live At Apollo Theater in 2008 from NY Times
Click on the picture to read it for yourself.

Returned from the dead to play in public once again!! Wow. I'd like to be there too.

In reality it's a promotion for this recently released album on Sony Classical who apparently forgot to tell the J&R people that poor Art left this mortal coil 52 years ago. The album is a "RE-PERFORMANCE" of 1949 recordings done by this company. Their website has a sample of the process. Seems very cool. I'd like to hear it.

This story is another part of the explanation.

ADDENDUM - added about 5 hours after the above:

Art Tatum - The Piano Starts Here Live At The Shrine
I had to buy pet food this afternoon. The pet food store is near a Best Buy. I went there to look for a new DVD writer for my computer. They didn't have any. I wandered through the CD section. They had a lot of Sony Classical discs. They actually had "Art Tatum Piano Starts Here Live at The Shrine" for $14.99. I got the last copy. It's $2 cheaper at Amazon.

The disc has 13 songs on it but 26 tracks. Each track is provided both in Surround Sound and Binaural Sound. I listened to the binaural ones on my iPod. It's supposed to sound like you're actually sitting at the piano - high notes on the right, low notes on the left. There's audience applause (very fake and annoying) farther off to the right.

The big selling point of this new disc is that they've recreated the exact performance recorded years ago on a living modern mechanical piano using computer magic. Previously they've done the same thing to Glenn Gould. I wonder how they reproduced Glenn's "singing".

I'm sure the sound of this Tatum album is just a sweet wet dream for technoids. But who cares. I'd completely forgotten about all that crap half way through the first track because Art Tatum plays rings around the piano.

He shoots arrows into the strings and transforms them into a great angelic harp. He tugs at the tunes distorting the melodies like funhouse mirrors. He left jabs and right hooks the harmonies until they cry uncle. He tells musical jokes and times the punch lines perfectly. This is absolutely wonderful music.

Granted, I don't know the original Un-Re-Performed recordings. I'm confident I'd react to those recordings just the same way I reacted to this gee-whiz-bang computerized modern value-added re-performed audio technical marvel. I say "Who cares how it sounds. That guy can really play."

I hope he plays a few gigs in L.A. after he finishes his run at the Apollo.

ADDENDUM TOO (added the next day) - Zenph Bloggers

Turns out that one of the people who worked on this Art Tatum album and also Art's live performance at the Apollo has a blog. Who woulda thunk it?

Here's a link to Eric Hirsch posts in the category Zenph. Check it out.

Re-performed Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


od said...

Like so much of what you do, I am at first repulsed and then confused. It says on the Zenph web page that it was "reperformed" at the Shrine itself with a live audience...I wonder if they reperformed the audience clapping too? I don't think there is any way in hell in would ever buy this, maybe it's my jazzer's sense of authenticity kicking in, but I prefer to think that perhaps Art might make a mistake while performing.

I have noticed that quite a large contingent of my students find they prefer newer recordings of jazz tunes over the originals simply because the recording quality is better, even when the musical quality is clearly not (no offense to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, for example, but they ain't Ellington's 1940s band).

Zenph also says they are working on reperformances of Ray Brown on bass with Oscar Peterson. Can John Coltrane be far behind?
Whoever it was that made that Trane-bot, also felt it necessary to show that robots have no taste

Is it only a matter of time before they start trying to make the cyber-Tatum play Whitney Houston songs?

David Ocker said...

Thanks Charles. That saxorobot makes REALLY bad music. COLTRON they call it. To make it listenable they'd have to get the mechano-mouthpiece control unit working much much much better. Levers working the sax keys are trivial by comparison

As an ex-clarinetist I still remember how small the required gradations of wind and lip control were to get a predictable output. Before the computer nerds accomplish that, however, they will probably create a functional computerized massage system - and Internet porn will enter its golden age.

Meanwhile, back at the Apollo Theater (so to speak) - I ripped my only other Art Tatum solo album (Solo Masterpieces Vol.1, from 1956) to my iPod and set it to play both the performed and the re-performed cuts randomly. As I expected, unless I intentionally attended to the sound quality, I was drawn to listen to what he played not how it sounded.

You wrote "I prefer to think that perhaps Art might make a mistake while performing."

I think Art was really good at converting what would be a mistake for a lesser player into part and parcel of his performance. So I hope anything which the Zenph engineers might have thought was a mistake was left alone. If Tatum did make a mistake originally, he ought to make the same mistake in every Re-Performance, don't you think?

They talk about converting the audio into "enhanced midi" including pedal and precise touch control. It seems to me that must require some contemporary human subjectivity.

I have two albums (from several years ago) of George Gershwin piano rolls realized for the Disklavier, called Gershwin Plays Gershwin. Those openly admitted to modern interpretation: "Realized by Artis Wodehouse" A piano roll has less information than an audio recording, but it's easier to digitize.

od said...

Agreed, the Coltron is one million times worse than the Tatum-bot. I listened to some of their samples on the web page...and I actually have the Columbia CD re-issue of the original recording, which I see is still in print:
Yeah, they do a good job cleaning up some really bad sound quality, but it still makes the feel queasy.

I could go scientific and point out that everything from Tatum's ambient body temperature to the humidity of the air as effected by his breathing, or just his mass in volume and sitting position near the piano would have made the sound different, but I won't go there. What makes me ill is that I know, deep down, it is my belief in magic that forces me to enjoy the terrible recording.

It is the "re-presentation" that gets to me. Listening to the live recording, I like to pretend I was there...and maybe even the bad quality gives it a greater degree of authenticity for me, though ideally I would like to say that it is strictly the music. The music, especially for jazz, is about it's presentation. So even though the original recording itself is a re-presentation, it allows me to fantasize that I was there and that I might be there again later and hear Tatum perform differently. But this is total fantasy. The recording fixes Tatum's performance permanently. The original recording, and any recording, is already a re-presentation. So, is programming it onto a hi-res midi any different than removing tape hiss? It shouldn't be, yet...

It initially strikes me as looking at a digitally reproduced art opposed to the one actually worked on by the artist. Of course, the musician never really touches the recording (at least most of the time). Maybe it's that what must be subjective interpretation of pedal and touch that could never equal Tatum's... and even matching it perfectly sort of offends the spirit of what he was doing as improvisation. Even if it sounds perfect, I guess its the possibility of changing it that bothers me. This is all alchemical and wholly spurious, but I will take the scratchy original.

Now if I had a disklavier pro in my house and could plug Tatum into it and hear him playing it while I am sitting on the bench.....that actually sounds quite appealing. But I will reserve my records (and cds) for indulgence in space and time travel.

David Ocker said...

Here's a blog review of the Apollo concert - apparently there's more to it than just a player piano on stage

And don't miss producer Eric Hirsch's posts about the album and concert

Here's another short review at WNYC with some interesting comments attached.

Ultimately, in my opinion, if all this technological re-performing gets people to listen (and enjoy) music they would not have otherwise been aware of - and a few people make a few bucks (re)producing the re-performance, then it's all for the best.

And one more thing - if Zenph has midi files of these performances, then they could be converted into MUSIC NOTATION and some talented (er, make that super-talented, super-human-talented) pianist (the re-incarnation of Tatum himself) could play them live on a real not-computerized piano.

Hey, Mr. Zenph or Mr. Sony, wanna hire me, an experienced music copyist/editor, to convert those midi files into a performance score?