The songs selected for the Art Tatum/ Ben Webster session were all classics, including "All The Things You Are," "Night and Day," and "My Ideal." Several, like "Have You Met Miss Jones?" brought with them associations of famous singers' interpretations and big band arrangements. Thinking of Tatum and Webster as analogous isn't a stretch; after all, Tatum sounded like a big band on the keys and Webster was an incredible song stylist. The Tatum solo numbers are song-for-song identical to the session played with Webster, showing how Tatum had interpreted these numbers three years prior to the small group recordings. Listening to Tatum stretch out in the solo versions shows how deep his conception of each song truly was and makes it that much more of a marvel listening to his relatively reserved comping behind Webster. Red Callender and Bill Douglass provide support in the group sessions, on bass and drums respectively.
There's a history lesson in every bar of music on this recording, not least in the comparison between what Tatum and his contemporaries were doing on piano in the '50s. Even when tastefully comping in a group setting, Tatum can't help revert to that strong, left-hand stride style that makes Callender's bass largely irrelevant. Webster brings a very fluid and floating style to each song, but the rhythm behind him is always clicking away in Tatum's left hand. The absence of this reliance on stride in more modern players, as well as the regular use of amazing right-hand embellishment and hammered arpeggios, marks Tatum as a bit of a throwback. Webster was wonderful matched with this style of piano, since his style of playing and soloing elevated melody above all else. Webster was also known for rolling out some very decorated lines, so the textures created between his tenor and Tatum's right hand are absolutely magical.
Although '50s jazz is better known for hard bop and cool jazz, this session contains playing that would have fit well in even pre-war times. Tatum's one-man-band approach to piano is always balanced with his good judgment in the group setting, and Webster will absolutely slay you with the breathy strength of his tone in this period. Art Tatum/ Ben Webster: The Album contains a pinnacle moment in jazz, and does a nice job filling out the historical context with the extra Tatum solos. Highly recommended.