Regardless of whether they’ve heard of jazz or Art Tatum, young readers will appreciate how Parker uses simple, lyrical storytelling and colorful, energetic ink-and-wash illustrations to show the world as young Art Tatum might have seen it. Tatum came from modest beginnings and was nearly blind, but his passion for the piano and his acute memory for any sound that he heard drove him to become a virtuoso who was revered by both classical and jazz pianists alike. Included in the back matter is a biography and bibliography.
Parker, who illustrated Ballet of the Elephants and Action Jackson, makes his writing debut with a biography of famed jazz pianist Art Tatum, which takes some creative license in its straightforward, first-person narrative. Bad eyes can't keep me from playing the piano, says a young Tatum. My hands get to know the keys, the short black ones on top and long white ones below. I play more and more. And more. The uncluttered storytelling offers a chronological journey of Tatum's rise to fame: his first recital in church; a night of playing moon-themed songs while neighborhood children catch fireflies; his first gig at a bar. From the twins next door who help him walk to school to a caf owner who lets him use his player piano, the story incorporates the people who were important in Tatum's early life his hardworking parents, foremost. A subtle sophistication shines through Parker's easygoing yet dynamic watercolors. Roughly hewn sketch lines give the characters an almost abstract quality, but their faces and gestures project emotion nonetheless, as in vignettes of a bartender smiling contentedly or Tatum's mother sitting in the shadows by a radio, both listening to Tatum play. Parker's unhurried account could inspire visions of jazz greatness among young musicians. Ages 4-8.