Legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Despite being legally blind - he had only partial sight in one eye - he was largely self-taught on the piano. He learned to read sheet music via the Braille method and memorized musical recordings. Tatum studied at the Columbus School for the Blind in Columbus and the Toledo School of Music. Tatum's phenomenal ear for melody and pitch served him well as he began his lifelong habit of listening intently to all forms of music.
It was his ability to improvise, however, that set him apart as a musical genius. Tatum was not only a master of the swing and stride piano traditions, he built upon them and took them to new heights. He could take a traditional repetitive pattern and reconstruct it into a rhythm that was beautiful, shifting and altogether unexpected. Fellow jazz musicians couldn't help but become entranced by the intensity of his harmonies.
His aptitude for the stride type is displayed in his classic arrangements of Tiger Rag and Tea For Two. Influenced by famed Fats Waller, Tatum began playing his music on a local radio station at age 18 and then lived in Chicago, New York City, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, playing and recording as a soloist and with legendary jazz artist such as Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.
In 1993, an MIT graduate student conceptualized what is now known as the term "Tatum," the smallest unit of measurement in music, to honor some of the fastest hands to grace the ivory keys. In 2009, the city of Toledo commissioned a 30ft sculpture consisting of 88 piano keys to honor the life and musical genius of Art Tatum.