Jazz players and fans spoke about Art Tatum with the same awe that Hendrix or Clapton would elicit decades later. The feeling is best conveyed by quotes such as these at Wikipedia:
Numerous stories exist about other musicians’ respect for Tatum. Perhaps the most famous is the story about the time Tatum walked into a club where Fats Waller was playing, and Waller stepped away from the piano bench to make way for Tatum, announcing, “I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house.” Fats Waller’s son confirmed the statement.
The jazz pianist and educator Kenny Barron commented, “I have every record [Tatum] ever made — and I try never to listen to them … If I did, I’d throw up my hands and give up!”Jean Cocteau dubbed Tatum “a crazed Chopin.” Count Basie called him the eighth wonder of the world. Dave Brubeck observed, “I don’t think there’s any more chance of another Tatum turning up than another Mozart.”Pianist Mulgrew Miller, a noted fan of Tatum, commented on personal growth by saying, “When I talk to the people I admire, they’re always talking about continuous growth and development and I look at them and say, ‘Well…what are YOU going to do?’ But, as Harold Mabern says, ‘There’s always Art Tatum records around'”.Dizzy Gillespie said, “First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists.”