Music for the fall: Art Tatum and Ben Webster


The things we desire in the fall—the movies we want to watch, the soups we want to cook, the music we want to hear—are expressions, I think, of what we want the fall to be. For me, if summer is the colouring outside the lines of the Grateful Dead—what I think of as quintessentially summer music—fall ushers in a need for the familiar, the organized and the small. Summer music is expansive; autumn music is chamber music, closed-in and close.

The album I think of first is an old one, recorded for Verve in 1956, and which has been released under a number of different titles over the intervening years. It was initially released as “The Art Tatum-Ben Webster Quartet” though these days is better known through a 1992 CD release, “The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 8″ or “The Album.” All present the same sessions: the great jazz pianist Art Tatum with saxophonist Ben Webster supported by Red Callender (bass) and Bill Douglas (drums). Tatum is that early god of jazz piano, and plays with the kinds of embellishments that you don’t hear a lot of these days. Webster’s saxophone is breathy, rich, and beautiful—the perfect accompaniment to Tatum.

Part of my association between the album and the autumn is because Woody Allen used it as a de facto soundtrack to his movie September. Whatever you think about Woody Allen, there’s no doubt that he’s a very keen and knowledgeable jazz consumer, and it’s not by chance that he chose this music for his film. It just really feels like fall: close, inward looking, contemplative. Like all great instrumental music, it gives us a chance to sit down and to quietly think about some of the important things in life.


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