Great Encounters #39: When Al Hibbler hustled coin while playing with Art Tatum

December 2nd, 2014

hibbler   tatum1


“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. This edition tells the story of how the singer Al Hibbler would entice audience members to throw coins on the floor during his time playing with the great pianist Art Tatum.

Excerpted from Too Marvelous for Words:  The Life and Genius of Art Tatum by James Lester


The first time I met Art was here in New York. First time I met him I was working with [Jay] McShann, and there was a afterhours place — Clark Monroe, Monroe’s Uptown House, and — so I’m singing over at Monroe’s — Tallullah heard about me, I was singin’ blues then — she sent somebody over to Monroe’s and said, “Bring Al over, I wanna hear him sing “Outskirts of Town,” and I wanna hear him sing it with Art Tatum.” I said, Art Tatum? I went over there and sang, and she gave me my first hundred dollar bill. Tallullah and — I’m trying to think of this other girl that was there — Barbara Hutton [another equally well-known society girl]. “Poor little rich girl.” See, that’s when New York was New York, you know. All them big stars, Lana Turner, Carol Landis, Paulette Goddard, all them people was hanging in them afterhours joints. Tatum made me acquainted with all the afterhours joints. I quit Mac [McShann] — I wasn’t gonna leave NY. I had me a thing going, I still got the silver dollar. See, I put this silver dollar in my sleeve, and I’d get out on the floor and start singin’. And I’d hit some real groovy notes, and I’d drop my arm, like that, and that silver dollar would hit the floor, make somebody think somebody was throwin’ silver dollars. Shoot, I made so much money — So Art and I hired a little white girl named Phyllis Martin. And he said, “Now you keep her with you.” She had a little whisk broom, she’d go around and sweep this money up, put it in her purse. She and I would get together and count this money. Art wouldn’t take none of it — he’d say, “You keep it, man, I’m makin big money.” See, I didn’t have no contract with nobody. He said, “You hustlin, I’m not.”



Excerpted from Too Marvelous for Words:  The Life and Genius of Art Tatum by James Lester


Art Tatum’s Wikipedia biography

Al Hibbler’s Wikipedia biography

Art Tatum plays “Yesterdays”

Al Hibbler sings “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” with Duke Ellington’s orchestra

Share this:

2 comments on “Great Encounters #39: When Al Hibbler hustled coin while playing with Art Tatum”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...Also in this issue, in celebration of Blue Note’s 80th year, we asked prominent writers and musicians the following question: “What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums; a new collection of jazz poetry; “On the Turntable,” is a new playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings from six artists – Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian and Aaron Burnett; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Jazz History Quiz”; a new feature called “Pressed for All Time,”; a new photo-narrative by Charles Ingham; and…lots more.

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett


In this month’s collection, with great jazz artists at the core of their work, 16 poets remember, revere, ponder, laugh, dream, and listen

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob presents two stories, one on Clifford Brown (featuring the trumpeter Charlie Porter) and the other is part two of his program on stride piano, including a conversation with Mike Lipskin

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer Creed Taylor about how he came to use tape overdubs during the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing a Song of Basie recording session


"Thinking About Charlie Parker" -- a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.


Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.


Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

"The Photography Issue" will feature an interview with jazz photographer Carol Friedman (her photo of Wynton Marsalis is pictured), as well as with Michael Cuscuna on unreleased photos by Blue Note's Francis Wolff.

In the previous issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive