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

December 2nd, 2014

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“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

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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.”

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toomarvelous

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

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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

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