Art Tatum is one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz piano. He propelled the music forward perhaps more than any other jazz pianist. Specifically, Art was known for his reharmonizations (and chord substitutions) and his modern chord voicings, which would later impact bebop players and virtually all future jazz pianists.

Do these specific musical qualities (chord substitutions and voicings) appear in earlier artists who influenced Art? The evidence I'm looking for is a musical analysis comparing Art's work and known/possible influences on areas of chord substitutions and chord voicings.

  • I love this question! Art Tatum was a key influence on many jazz pianists such as Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell. I would love to see what others say about him as he was a key influence in other genres of jazz. Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 4:12
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    I've seen a book called Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum. Haven't read it, but it might have some part of an answer you are looking for.
    – vladli
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 22:30
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    Does anybody agree, that the question seems more appropriate for Music Fans?
    – guidot
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 15:22
  • @guidot, does MusicFans encompass musical analysis?
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


According to TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum by James Lester (1994,) some of Art Tatum's direct influences were James P. Johnson, Willie (The Lion) Smith, Earl Hines, and Fats Waller.

He was also a fan of Lee Sims and, likely, Luckey Roberts... all of these musicians played ragtime and more than one of them are accredited with the creation of the Stride Piano style.

The specific qualities of the chord substitutions and voicing used by Tatum comes directly from the unique nature of Stride as a style:

The name “stride piano” came from the look of the striding motion of the pianist’s left hand, with its constant alternation of bass note on beats one and three and mid-range chord on beats two and four.

[The left hand characteristically plays a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, major seventh or major tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats.]

Art Tatum had also a piano teacher by the name of Overton G. Rainey... But, Bill Cummerow, another partially blind pianist (like Tatum,) said that Rainey didn't improvise and also discouraged his students from doing so haha.

  • Thanks! More than just stride, I'm wondering about the voicings themselves. He was said to have used modern voicings and chord substitutions that other pianists did not start using until decades later. Were those elements totally invented by Art, or were there influences that he drew from?
    – jdjazz
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 17:03

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