Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Real Faith Twister, Courtesy of Art Tatum

So, I'm starting on this new blog with a post about Art Tatum. Hopefully, you'll all redirect your browsers here to read great, yet munificent, posts about God and music. And they'll be other stuff, you know.

I'll keep it brief, which is not my strong suit. I've used my myspace blog the last few years as an exercise to compile a book, and I think I've written enough material to edit it and perhaps shop it around. So, I'm starting here with a new kind of blog. This blog will be for new posts, long and short, about this and that, and it will move to and fro, and it will say things big and small.

Art Tatum was a great piano player. And from Toledo, Ohio, too. He was blind in one eye, and could barely see out of the other. This is not a clever turn of phrase, but fact: if he got real close to ya, he might be able to figure out who you were via the one eye that still somewhat worked. Above all, he could play. Man, could he play.

When people first heard him in New York City outside of clubs, they assumed, I'm sure, that they were hearing two or three pianos at once. On record, he got much the same reaction. Film of his performances show an effortless gliding up and down the keyboard, as if programmed to do so without flaw. He'd be able to play a tune after only hearing once, and then he'd play it with embellishments and ad libs, as if he know the core of the tune so well that he could play with it, rearrange it on the spot. Genius is known instantly, usually.

He didn't play spiritual tunes, or hymns or anything of the kind. His opinions of faith not really known or discussed. After all, he's not known for such things. But, people like this make me wonder, bring me to question. I don't question my belief in God or anything like that. I question why He does what He does. He has created all of us, if you believe it, and I do. This means He made Art Tatum. This means He made Art Tatum to have this amazing skill, at least in my mind, because, it's so uncannily good, great even. It's evidence of God, just like the birth of a child, or the banana, according to Kirk Cameron. Art Tatum is my banana. He proves God to me.

But, there's a hitch. Tatum's life didn't necessarily exemplify the Christian life. He was a heavy drinker. His song choices were not explicitly or implicitly about God; they seemingly were devoid of much, if any, spirituality. My question about all this is: how does God see that? How does God view His creation living this way? Why would He give such an obviously God-manufactured gift to someone who would not use it for Him? Or, do we have a narrow definition of what brings glory to God? And, what do you think about all of this?

I'd like to know...


Anonymous said...

a little DeeP for me on this Thanks Giving morn...

well my simple take,
the JoY of music is a gift from God.

so Art was at times passing his God given gift & joy of music along to others...

& at other times may have been rebeling againt God & drinking his own pain away...? I don't know...


Lish said...

I think that God doesn't want us to figure EVERYTHING out in his plan.

After all, if we knew everything right off the bat, we'd quickly lose interest and we wouldn't exercise our minds TRYING...trying to figure it out, trying to better ourselves, trying to help others...but nonetheless, TRYING.

You know how they say that before you go to a doctor's appointment you should write down all your questions for the doc so you don't forget? Imagine how long our list of questions will be when we meet the REAL God (as opposed to those who just think they are! HA!)

Lloydie said...


Yeah, that's exactly the rub. That music, even though it was "secular" (although I'm not a big fan of that classification) did pass that gift to others. It really puts a monkeywrench in the works for a lot of traditional theology, but I think that's the way I see it.