The Other Art Tatum

Gus Seyffert is tall. Six feet, four and a half inches to be exact. Tall enough so that when the Echo Park bass player gets into the back seat of some cars, like, for example, a VW bug, he has to lie down in order to fit.

The handsome, elevated 27-year-old, who fronts the band Willoughby and plays with local musicians Benji Hughes, Inara George, Mike Andrews, Charlie Wadhams and Australian pop star Sia, admits that because of his height he has mastered the skill of gracefully tilting his neck while walking through low doorways or hanging out in basement bars.

Seated in the late-morning sun outside the Chango coffee shop on Echo Park Avenue, Seyffert is dressed in jeans and a dark T-shirt. He is accompanied by his bullmastiff Arthur, or Art Tatum, if you are the type who prefers to greet canines by their full name.

At 175 pounds, Arthur, who this morning rests under the table that holds his owner’s breakfast, is large for his breed. He is also enthusiastic and, sometimes, in his owner’s words, “clumsy.” The drooling, brindle-coated beast is so hefty that every time he simply adjusts his body weight, he nearly knocks over the entire table.

All is saved by Seyffert’s well-placed left hand, which casually holds the rocking table down whenever such caution is needed, while his right intuitively reaches for his coffee. Arthur often knocks things over just by moving around; at home it’s mostly beer bottles and musical instruments. Usually the blame is on his faithfully wagging tail, which, on occasion, plays an errant tambourine or bass drum by mistake.

Like his owner, Arthur is attractive and affable. The large dog has a way of uplifting people instantly, like a chocolate lab I once met that regularly visited an elderly neighbor, and was so cherished a guest that when the old man passed away the family invited the dog to the funeral.

Arthur, who has yet to make such a friend, does literally stop people in their tracks. Like the man who now approaches Seyffert.

“Wow!” the man says, walking past the friend who awaits him at a nearby table and squatting to take Arthur in. “You’re beautiful! Look at yoooouu. Good guy, huh? Yes! You’re amazing!

He looks up at Seyffert: “What’s he eat? Does he chase a ball? Does he play tug of war?”

Later, with a smile from the side of his mouth, Seyffert explains that Arthur sometimes gets too much attention. And, in situations where time is of the essence, Seyffert has learned to leave Arthur at home.

“I do meet a lot of people through Art,” he admits, sipping an iced coffee. “But sometimes it can be distracting.”

Even as a puppy, Arthur was massive. In fact, many potential buyers were scared off and thus the breeder sold him to Seyffert for cheap: $500.

“I fell in love with him right away,” Seyffert recalls. “I always liked big dogs.”

Now the two are thick as thieves, which, according to the American Bullmastiff Association, is precisely what bullmastiffs were bred for: catching poachers. The dogs have the unique ability to silently and quickly chase down thieves in the woods, sneak up on them, pounce on them and then hold them down — without mauling them — until their masters come with the gamekeepers.

Both Arthur and his owner had large fathers. Arthur’s dad was 150 pounds, large for the breed that usually caps off at 120. Seyffert’s dad, a Kansas City amateur genealogist, is 6 feet 6 inches. Arthur stopped growing a few months ago, but prior to that he grew at a steady clip. So did Seyffert, who suffered pretty bad growing pains, and stopped growing just two years ago.

“I was probably 6 feet 3 inches by 18,” says Seyffert, who is presently 15 pounds lighter than Arthur. “I look at pictures of me as a kid and I was so lanky and angular. I heard adult males can continue growing to 25.”

A new admirer approaches Arthur.

“Hey, buddy!” the man hollers as he walks across the street from his truck to pet Arthur on the head.

“You’re pushing 180, aren’t you? Yeah. I think I’ve seen you walking in Elysian Park, haven’t I?

Seyffert nods. Arthur pants and moves closer toward his admirer.

“Yeah, I love you! You’re built for pushing carts,” the guy observes.

Seyffert chimes in, “When I first got him I wanted to build him a cart and make him a harness, like they use in Italy, where they use bullmastiffs for hauling fruit.”

“He could probably move at a pretty fast clip when he is running,” the man says.

“He can,” Seyffert agrees. “When he wants to. He loves to chase me on my bike, but other than that I can never get him to run. He just won’t.”

He is named after jazz pianist Art Tatum?

“Yeah, Art Tatum is, like, my favorite musician. And I don’t know if you have seen pictures of Art Tatum, but he kinda has a huge, round head and big cheeks. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by saying Art Tatum looks like a dog, but if you saw a picture of Art’s face and a picture of Art Tatum you could kind of see what I am talking about.”

Arthur’s friend, who is now seated one table over has just received his sandwich. Arthur lifts himself up and moves a little closer.

“Art,” Seyffert says, rising to his feet and pulling his dog away by his leash. “That is not your sandwich.”?


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