Yes, I know . . . this combination of words doesn’t occur often in daily discourse, especially because those of us who follow and idolize jazz musicians think of them as occupying a realm far above the ordinary obligations of our lives.  So when I saw this document advertised on eBay, I was first delighted to see what I assume is a genuine Art Tatum signature.  Then — the mind reels — “Arthur Tatum” had a mortgage?

And a “chattel mortgage” on a Plymouth?

“Research!” as the late Len Kunstadt used to say.

Feast your eyes . . . .

Tatum autograph


  1. James Lester’s biography of Art Tatum, “Too Marvellous For Words”, includes an autographed portrait of Tatum in his 20s. Besides the fact that he signed “Art Tatum” on that portrait (well, he could have changed his signature, even if both are from the same timeframe), and though I am not a graphologist, handwriting is very, very different.
    Best regards,

  2. I can’t put my hands on the Lester book at the moment, but I respect your accurate diligence, as you know, Agustin. However, this is a minefield of amusing problems, none of which need to be taken very seriously. One, of course, is the question of Tatum’s near-blindness. Is it possible that he had someone with more attractive handwriting sign the photo for him? I think of Chick Webb telling Helen Oakley Dance that his secretary would autograph the photo, because she had “such beautiful handwriting,” and Chris Albertson’s recent revelation that he was one of Benny Goodman’s official signers-of-photos-and-record-albums! So I don’t know which of the signatures is or might be genuine. And there’s another problem: the chattel mortgage (although I truly can’t read the fine print) refers to a Plymouth, which would have been — most logically — an automobile. Did Tatum own a car, and was he borrowing money against it? Did he drive? Anyway, it is all most amusing. The mortgage did come from Ohio, where Tatum hailed from, if that is a factor in its favor. All autographs are suspect unless the person who’s selling them actually got the signature, and (this is said quietly) many items advertised on eBay are even more suspect. Yours in amiable amusement, Michael

  3. Mark MacPherson

    That signature looks very deliberately written.

    It’s written in a limited space area.

    It’s the kind of signature you would put on a legal document vs a casual autograph or a quickly written check

  4. sam parkins

    Yo Jazz Lives – in fact a blind man did drive. Mike Levin, sometimes editor of Downbeat told me this one in 1944 when he was in the army and I wasn’t yet:

    Mike introduced me to his record of the
    Joe Mooney quartet record of “Tea for Two”: “Do you long for oolong like I long for oolong, baby? Oh man what a boot from a long tender
    shoot of oolong”. Blind accordion player, with clarinet, guitar, bass. As hip as you could get in those days considering you couldn’t GET hip. Only hep. Got a measurable amount of airplay.

    And a typical “Stone Brothers” story: Joe Mooney worked in Florida (yeah I know – might be apocryphal, but as an old stono it rings true). After the gig the guys would climb into the car and drive around getting high. After a joint or two, Joe says, “Can I drive?” “Sure man”.

    They put him in the drivers seat, explain the levers and pedals and tell him when to turn the wheel and all, and off they go.

    4:30 in the AM. Town’s absolutely deserted except for them. Car’s a little wobbly on the road. So a motorcycle cop pulls them over and says to Joe, “Can I see your license?”

    “License? Are you kidding man? I’m blind”. And the cop was so spooked he let them go…sp

  5. Michael

    As far as I remember (I don’t have the book handy now at work), Lester tells some stories about Tatum driving -or better trying to drive- a car. He was devilishly good at playing cards too!

    And, of course, I was not unmistakingly stating that those ebay documents are false. It’s simply that I remembered Tatum’s signature I had seen read “Art Tatum” and that’s why I checked James Lester’s biography of the Toledo wonder.

    Diligently yours,

  6. By the way, there is another auction from the same seller, offering a newspaper advertisement of Art Tatum from the Toledo Sunday Times (January 4, 1931). Starting bid is US $499.00.

    Five hundred dollars for an old newspaper ad that is falling apart? Now gimme a break!

  7. I emailed the ebay seller & told him that this was not Art Tatum’s autograph. It was Art Tatum father’s autograph. He had two. He sold one as Art’s autograph. The way he responded to me, I think he felt that I was right. I know that I was right.

  8. I am the seller of the item, I believe this to be Art Tatum the jazz pianist and not his father, I don’t know why this character would suggest that I thought that it may be Art’s father. Only he suggest that it’s Art’s father, I believe that he does not want to believe that it is Art himself. According to the late sister of Art, Arline, from whom I obtained this, it is her brother’s signature. I will stand by what she told me, not conjectural hearsay. Tim Healy, Toledo ,Ohio

  9. Tim Healy is still wrong. He can stand by it all he wants to. I know Art Tatum’s signature. If Mrs. Arline Taylor told him that it was Art’s autograph, she had gotten a little older. In fact tell him to look in James Lester’s Bio on Art. Look at his autograph on the photo. Robert Tatum, who was my uncle, writes almost exactly like Art. The man is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  10. I saw the Lester book, and leafed through it, it’s based on a bunch of interviews, it’s better than nothing but really quite lame, more a labor of love, and I commend Mr. Lester. I also noticed many names of local old timers from Toledo that he interviewed, many of whom I also have spoken with over the last couple of decades, most are deceased. Art Tatum would be 100 years old this year, and very few people are left in the world who could offer any real insight and facts into lets say the first 40 years of his life. Yes we know a lot of stuff, but do we know a lot of details? My initial contacts with Arline Taylor in the mid 90’s were not even to discuss her brother Art, but were to discuss her work as a photographer and to see what, if any, of her works she had left. She voluntarily produced the newspaper ad and the chattel mortgage. To Mr. Chaney I say, I’m glad that your uncle Robert, writes almost exactly like Art. Also Mr. Chaney, I’m stickin’ to my guns, the signature on the chattel mortgage is that of the great Art Tatum, you are free to have your own beliefs.

  11. I know things about Art Tatum that no one else in the world knows. He was my mother’s first cousin. You are still wrong, wrong, wrong.
    If anyone purchases those items from you, they will not have what they believe they have.
    You can keep trying to convince yourself that you are right, but I hope that you do not convince anyone else. I could not prove anything to you because you are looking without seeing.

    I will not comment on this again. I just want the jazz world to know that you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

  12. Because your mother was Art’s cousin, gives you no extra edge at being an authority on Art’s signature. I have known many people who knew Art Tatum personally, so what? I suppose the newspaper ad was a fraud too? Why was it not in the Lester book that you seem to believe is flawless? Anyway, please keep your word and do not comment, I do not no why you wish to defame me.

  13. I just found your discussion about the Tatum signature. At the moment I’m finishing a book on Tatum (unfortunately for most of you it is in German) which will be published in October. As far as I know, in later years Tatum had a stamp with his signature, which he used when admirers asked for an autograph. I don’t know if that would have been sufficient for a legal document. But what is clear from all sources: At school Tatum learned to read and write in the “normal” way and in Braille, too. He always could see a little bit with one of his eyes; when he played bridge or pinochle – he loved to do so – he held the cards very close to his “good” eye. So why should he be unable so sign a legal document? And we know that he had several cars during his life-time, the first one beeing a Model A Ford, that his mother bought for him when he still was in Toledo. I would very appreciate to get in direct contact with the seller of the document in question and with the man, who bought it. Thank you!

  14. I stumbled on this thread. I have a post card with the autograph of Art Tatum, Slam Stewart, and Everett Barksdale. My father got it in Chicago in 194something. I can ask him if he remembers whether Art himself signed it. The sig in the doc above doesn’t look like it. I can scan it if anyone cares enough to see it.


  15. hmmm. I just looked more closely. Although they *look* different at first, there are features in common. For example, the m’s in Tatum end the same way, and in both the cross on the t is above the vertical stroke. I’m not so sure anymore. I think an expert would be needed to really say for sure. I can say that Tatum’s signature is much larger than a normal signature. The capital letters are about an inch high. But then, he was signing an autograph.

  16. Dear Gary,

    I still would like to see it and would post the scan in this blog . . . so might I take you up on your generous offer? And anything your father remembers would be of the greatest interest! Regards to you both.

    Many thanks, Michael Steinman

  17. sorry for the long delay. I really forgot about this and only just now re-stumbled on it. I have a scan of the postcard. I think you will find the comparison to the mortgage very interesting. How do I get it into the blog? (I’ll try to pay closer attention.)

    PS. I haven’t looked closely at what jazzlives is really about, but I can report that it lives *just barely* in Philadelphia with the closing of Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus. Only one venue left in this town of national and jazz history: Chris’s

  18. Dear Gary,

    I think you can email the scan as a comment here, or send it to me at and I will post it — either as a comment or as a separate posting. Cheers! Michael (And anything you can recall about the circumstances under which your father got Tatum’s autograph would be fascinating.)

  19. I stumbled across this thread through a quick Google search on Art Tatum’s name. I was doing the search because I have an autographed picture of him that was made out to my late father’s first wife. My father was the legendary Chicago jazz saxophonist, Franz Jackson. Interestingly enough, he is actually on clarinet in the header picture at the top of this page. My father started performing at the age of 16 in the 20’s with pianist Albert Ammons and went on to play with virtually every big (and small) name in jazz until his death in 2008, including Art Tatum. His first wife, Maxine Johnson, was a singer and performed with some fairly big names as well. I am assuming that she obtained it while either she or my father was performing with Tatum himself, or while they were appearing seperately in the same revue. So, I was just doing a quick search to see if I could find any information on the value of this particular autograph. It’s one of many that I’ve come across from some of those early great musicians.

    If anyone would like to see the scan of the picture and give me their opinion, I’d be happy to send it.

  20. I’d sure like to see a scan of the picture and autograph, that would be great. Thanks Tim Healy

  21. Good opportunity to post my postcard, too. I did email a scan to jazzlives. I can resend it if it’s lost. -gary

  22. I did indeed print it not that many choruses ago: please search the blog archives for ART TATUM and I promise it will appear!

  23. I was the person who purchased the Chattel Mortgage Tatum piece. I have followed the twists and turns of this issue for the past 20 years. There is very strong evidence that he did NOT sign his name in LATER years. People have stories of him stamping his “autograph” for fans. Also, he signed his passport and a check with an “X”. Many of the “autographs” that are published, including the one in the Lester book, and one on an old LP do not seem to come from the same hand. (Therefore, the fact that this signature does not match those is meaningless – they are the forgeries)

    However, this item, sold by Mr. Healy, is very convincing. The item is for a Plymouth automobile, sold in the 1920’s. The address is Tatum’s home address at the time (City Park Avenue – I’ve been to the home). It was kept by Tatum’s sister, along with the advertisement of Tatum playing locally. The signature is quite halting, as if by someone with poor vision. In the late 1920’s, Tatum was mugged, severely limiting his sight. Maybe this signature was before that incident? Another theory that would reconcile this signature with the fact that he signed with an “X” on documents, and stamped his autographs for fans is this: he was the world’s greatest jazz pianist; maybe he was too vain to sign with such a halting signature?

    I am convinced that this signature is Art Tatum’s. The only issue for me is this: is the Art Tatum, Jr., or Art Tatum Sr? We can never know this without a signature of Art, Sr, such as from a document. The fact that Arline states that this is Art, Jr. helps the case, but does not prove it.

  24. The more I look at the autograph I have, the more it looks like the signature on the mortgage document. (but I’m no expert! maybe father and son have similar handwriting) See my 1/19/2010 post above. My dad says that he watched Art Tatum Jr. sign that postcard. Here’s a note I wrote right after I spoke to my dad:

    “I spoke to my dad. He thought about being in Chicago. It was a rare business trip for him, so he remembers it fairly well. Based on where he was in his career, he says it must have been 1940-1945, maybe earlier. (My dad is 89 and in excellent health.) But this is a looong time ago, so his memory might not be so reliable. He said that Art Tatum was very friendly and personable. He doesn’t remember anything about Stewart or Barksdale. He does remember that Tatum’s fingers were *fast* (oh yeah?). He also said that Chicago was like a carnival at night. That’s about it. He talked about other aspects of the trip … his huge per diem, the restaurants, the train ride, etc, but he didn’t have anything else to say about his evening with Art’s trio.”

    BTW, jazzlives says he posted my autograph here … but I can’t find it. Has anyone seen the posting?

  25. Dear Gary,

    Search for “Gary Pajer” in the search bar and I trust it will emerge. I remember posting it. Cheers, Michael

  26. Since Tim Healy lives in Toledo, he could clear the issue of whether this was Art, Jr. or Art, Sr. who signed this document. Does the Toledo Hall of Records have a copy of the marriage license, or some other document, that has Art, Sr.’s signature? If this does not match, then the signature is Art, Jr’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s