Art Tatum – Story About Limits

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said “We may affirm that absolutely nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”

While I’m all about the brass tacks of business, getting things done and all things practical there’s always that part of me that really appreciates all that fluffy stuff….you know cool stories about passion and the impossible…dare I say “heart-warming”!

Here’s a really cool story that fits into that bucket…it’s about passion, it’s about having blind faith, achieving the impossible and a great example of what happens in the absence of limiting beliefs.

Art Tatum was an amazing jazz pianist…one of the best in the world…and his story is awesome.

Robert Cooper writes about Art in his sweet book The Other 90% and that’s where I heard this tale.

In 1909 Art was born partially blind. As a young boy he went completely blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other…there’s a rumour that was as a result of a severe beating…whatever the cause poor young Art was off to a rough start.

Music quickly became a passion for Art. He loved music and his absolute favourite was the piano.

With no money for lessons but with a burning need to learn how to play the piano Art would get someone to walk him to a local bar…maybe they called them saloons back then.

Amidst the smoke and the booze our buddy Art would sit there at the player piano (one of those self-playing pianos that had a roll of paper with all the key strokes imprinted on it).

Art would sit there for hours at the keyboard moving his fingers up and down trying to keep up and learn these piano tunes.

The keys moved so fast with some of those old jazz tunes that it seemed almost impossible but Art just went ahead and learned to play.

The cool part is that Art didn’t know that those tunes were recorded using 2 pianists….that’s 4 hands folks! And just to be clear…Art only had 2 hands.

So our buddy Art became the first person ever to play 4 hand piano music with 2 hands which is pretty darn cool.

Before Art made it possible any piano teacher would have “known” that playing 4 hand music with 2 hands was impossible. And if Art had taken formal piano lessons he would have learned all about where these limits were..what was possible and what was impossible for him.

Because Art had no idea it couldn’t be done he just went and did it fuelled by his own passion for the music.

He didn’t just do the impossible he became a legend.

Fellow jazz legend Fats Waller summed up Art’s abilities to an audience one night with a simple phrase “tonight, God is in the house.”


Clint Ussher, a The Well Pastor at The Well wrote this to remind us that the limitations set upon us have been set by others, not by our own ability or passion to succeed. So next time you think  you cant do something, just ask yourself this simple question. Saids Who?


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