2009-03-12

Joe Turner - Pianists in my life (2/3)

Second part of "Joe Turner - Pianists In My Life" as told to Johnny Simmen.


"(...) Shortly after, I had a tour of the west with Adelaide Hall (as accompanist, together with the late Alex Hill, my good friend- in fact it was a piano duo), but before we left we had trouble with Alex, and Francis Carter, also a good pianist, joined us. Benny Carter told me that when I reached Toledo, Ohio, I should not play any piano because there was a blind boy there called Art Tatum and I would not be able to touch him. When the Adelaide Hall troupe finally reached Toledo, I asked where I could find Art and I was given the address of a buffet flat where he would appear every night at two o’clock, after his work. After finishing at the theatre at midnight I went there and waited for Art to arrive. In the meantime, I played some good stuff on the piano there and two girls sitting near the piano started an argument over my playing compared with Art’s. One girl said “He’ll wash Art away”, while the other was insisting “Just wait until Art gets here and you’ll see how he’ll cut this boy!”. Art Tatum arrived at two o’clock. He asked me if I was the Joe Turner who had made a reputation with a fine arrangement of “Liza”. I said that it was me and begged him to play piano for me. After he had refused to play before hearing me (and of course with Art I lost the argument) I played first “Dinah” for warming up and then my “Liza”. When I had finished Art said “Pretty good”, and I was offended, because everywhere else that I played “Liza” it was considered sensational and there was Art Tatum saying “pretty good”! After that, Art sat down and played “Three Little Words”. Three thousand words would have been an understatement!!! We became the greatest of friends after that. Art came to my home the next morning and even before I had left my bed I heard him in the parlor play my arrangement of “Liza” note for note. After hearing it only once the night before! By the way, he liked it so much that some time later he recorded it exactly as I played it.

When I left Toledo I took his name and address with intentions of bringing him to New York, to team with me, especially since we were having troubles with Francis Carter. But when we returned to New York the troubles switched over to me and left the act, although they wanted to get rid of Francis. Since he was the only one left who knew the act, they kept him. Being honest with everyone, I gave Adelaide Hall Art Tatum’s address and that’s how he came to New York. Many people believed until now that I played together with Art -unfortunately I did not. Although I was supposed to have done, because of so much explaining, I decided not to deny anyone's belief that I had (that’s something putting all the discographies upside-down!) So I declare: Francis Carter made “I’m In The Mood For Love” with me, not Art Tatum, and Francis Carter played in my place with Art Tatum.

Now to mention some more pianists who really gave me solid kicks in my life:

Lucky (sic) Roberts, Fats Waller, who was the best friend I ever had, Willie The Lion Smith -the most unpredictable pianist of all time because if Tatum played, if Fats played, if James P. played, if anyone in Harlem played, we could pretty well guess what their feature number would be- but, when The Lion roared you never knew what was coming. By the way, The Lion and I are always in correspondence, reminiscing about the old times and discussing events in the present day jazz world. We are still having fun together, in spite of The Lion roaring in New York while I’m beating it out all over Switzerland.

There is one other pianist whose genius I would like to have heard beside that of Art Tatum: Seminole (Abalabba). He was the greatest trick pianist I have ever heard. I have jammed together with him many times and I know quite well that he was one of the wonders of our time. It would have been wonderful to have heard two geniuses in a contest, but Tatum came to New York after Seminole had already died.

Many times I heard Jelly Roll Morton brag about the things he’d done for jazz and much to my amazement he would always prove every statement. This leaves us to the one fact about Jelly Roll. This is that the mere mention of the history of jazz without his name in capitals, is bunk. Teddy Wilson came to New York and played with Benny Carter’s orchestra at Connie’s Inn. He gave me no peace until I had taught him some of those smashing minor thirds that I had learned from James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. There is no doubt that Teddy Wilson is one of the cleanest technicians of our time.

Another name I cannot leave out is that of Donald Lambert who came often to New York from New Jersey, always looking for cutting contests. Believe me, when he finished throwing that left hand very few people had even a desire to walk past the piano, let alone play it!

Another old friend of mine who would stutter in his speech but never in his playing, and whose left hand is comparable to that of the Lion, James P., The Beetle and Kirby Walker, is Willie Gant. Willie would always get Kirby Walker and hunt for me because it seems that my left had worried him a bit so he decided between him and Kirby Walker they could give me all the troubles I needed because they both had (and have) dynamite lefts (...)."

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