Jazz Standards Arranged for Classical Guitar in the Style of Art Tatum

Brew Stephen

The preceding quote by jazz guitarist Teddy Bunn highlights a rather surprising interaction between two of the 20th century’s most influential musicians: Andrés Segovia, the brilliant classical guitarist who elevated the stature of his instrument to unprecedented heights, and Art Tatum, the inimitable jazz pianist whose technique and imagination yielded fantastic interpretations that will never be equaled. For a brief moment, these two musical giants crossed paths.
Unfortunately, Bunn’s quote leaves more questions than answers. For example,  what was Tatum playing? Where did the performance take place? Did the men converse? Did Tatum ever hear Segovia perform?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it may be more instructive to focus on what we do know. Art Tatum, a nearly-blind jazz pianist from Toledo, Ohio, was a rising star by the time Segovia heard him play in the 1930s. Luminaries such as Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, and Itzhak Perlman lauded his performances, while Vladimir Horowitz was said to have “praised him…extravagantly. In this light, it seems as though Segovia’s admiration of Tatum was no different than that of his contemporaries.

On the other hand, Segovia never publicly lauded Tatum and generally denounced jazz and popular music. In this light, Bunn’s quote becomes quite curious: what do we make of Segovia’s alleged admiration of Tatum against his diatribes on popular music? Perhaps the answer lies in Segovia’s professional ambitions and carefully-cultivated external image. Segovia wanted to elevate the guitar as a serious instrument worthy of the concert stage. As such, he sought to portray himself as refined, cultured, and sophisticated. In his opinion, public praise for a jazz musician may have undermined these efforts.

Whatever the case, we can accept that Segovia and Tatum, two of the most transformative figures of 20th century music, were once together in the same room. Though Tatum’s interpretations of composers like Duke Ellington were surely very different than Segovia’s interpretations of composers like Bach, both made indelible marks in their respective fields.

It remains unclear whether these two men actually interacted in the late 30s, but it is safe to say that their styles conflate now with the presentation of these arrangements.
The purpose of this project is to analyze Art Tatum’s style, examining his improvisational techniques, melodic variation, harmonic excursions, and formal devices, and arrange a collection of jazz standards for the guitar in this style. I will begin with a history of arrangement and transcription for classical guitar, discussing the role of arrangement/transcription in the repertoire, types of arrangements and transcriptions, and current trends in the field.
Thesis (DM) – Indiana University, Music, 2018

Jazz Standards Arranged for Classical Guitar in the Style of Art Tatum

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