Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Beat goes on for a shrine to Art Tatum


'Art Tatum is a god of pianists,' says Jim Havens, dean of the Toledo Area Sculptors Guild, with a miniature of the memorial he wants to create to honor the late local jazz great.


GIBSONBURG - Jim Havens is tall and flinty-eyed, a commanding presence who works alchemy on the edge of a dead quarry in a tiny Sandusky County town.

From a fiery furnace, he forms driveway lions and life-size soldiers for war memorials. He's an ironworker turned sculptor, dean of the Toledo Area Sculptors Guild, creator and maintenance man to many area public artworks.

Now he is turning his talent toward a local legend, a man he says is too long forgotten in his own hometown.

"Art Tatum is a god of pianists," he said. "He's so looked-up-to by anyone who knows jazz. He grew up in a little house right over on City Park Avenue and influenced the whole world of music. ... And Toledo doesn't have any kind of memorial to honor him. I envision a sculpture; a tribute at the corner of Cherry and Summit downtown, right at the end of the Martin Luther King bridge."

The fascination took hold two years ago, and Mr. Havens has served it ever since.

He clipped old newspapers, did Internet searches, compiled sheaves of photos and articles on Tatum's life and achievements. He drew and measured and sculpted, and today he has a miniature of the memorial he wants to create to honor the late Mr. Tatum, he said.

"Tatum is the piano god, so I figure let's treat him like one," he said. "I see this as a small Greek temple, a pergola, elevated on a couple of steps."

Inside the semicircle of white stone is a bronze Mr. Tatum, his hands flying over the keyboard of a likewise bronze baby grand piano. "Maybe we could go without the temple thing," Mr. Havens said. "But I can see more as well as less. Maybe some quotes, set in the risers of the steps. Maybe just the piano. But at least something."

The idea of memorializing Mr. Tatum is not unique.

The Toledo Jazz Society named its annual festival after the pianist. A special historical center at Mott Branch Library is named for the pianist. The Ohio Bicentennial Commission plans to place a plaque at the Tatum homestead as part of the state's 200th anniversary next year. Fans, family, and well-wishers have discussed other ideas for years, including buying and renovating the home and naming state highways and bridges for Tatum.

"You know, 2006 will be the 50th anniversary of his death," Mr. Havens said. "2009 is his 100th birthday. And there's a lot of good feeling out there. People like to do the right thing."

Others agreed.

"It's a great idea. We all want to see an Art Tatum memorial," said Susan Reams, city arts consultant.

"There's nothing we'd like more," said Jory Jex, director of Toledo Jazz Society.

Union ironworkers and masons could donate labor to install the sculpture, Mr. Havens said. Local foundries and sculptors know how to handle Tatum-sized items. The Cherry Street corner he's eyeing is city-owned, he said, home now only to a summertime patch of petunias. The entire thing could happen for less than $100,000, he said.

But the Toledo Jazz Society is always short on funds, Ms. Jex said. It has never tackled fund-raising for a static artwork.

"Mr. Havens approached us with the idea a few months ago, and we've started talking with the Arts Commission," Ms. Jex said. "Money is tight. This is a 'wish list' item, I think."

Mrs. Reams, head of the mayor's Arts and Culture Commission, said the project is tailor-made for the Art In Public Places program, an Arts Commission group that places custom-made sculpture in city neighborhoods.

"But if [Mr. Havens] has a de|sign of his own, he must be looking to do this privately," she said. "Art In Public Places requires a very professional process, a call to artists, a number of steps," she said. "I can't tell you where he might raise the money, otherwise. Does he have a committee?"

Look at Jim Havens, and somehow the word "committee" doesn't come to mind.

"Somehow we'll come up with the money," he said. "I have this feeling. It will happen. It has to.

People want to do the right thing. So let's just go ahead and do it."

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