Art Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1909. Though he was born into a musical family, Tatum was blind in one eye and had only partial sight in the other, which made his own musical education somewhat more difficult.
Despite his impaired vision, Tatum taught himself piano, attended the Toledo School of Music, and developed a reputation for unparalleled veracity and improvisation. Tatum ultimately came to be respected by his awed peers in the jazz world. Fats Waller once introduced Tatum to a crowd by announcing, “I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house.”
Tatum died in 1956, but left a legacy that lives on today in downtown Toledo in the form of a 26-foot-tall column of piano keys just outside the Huntington Center. Commissioned by the City of Toledo as part of its One Percent for the Arts program and completed in 2009, the column twists into the sky as a permanent tribute to Toledo’s powerful contribution to jazz.