Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Earl Kenneth Hines, 28 December 1903, Duquesne PA; d 22 April 1983, Oakland CA) Pianist, bandleader, songwriter, occasional singer; aka 'Fatha'. He had four careers: he became world-famous with Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Noone and as a soloist in Chicago in the 1920s; led excellent big bands '28-47; was slowly reduced to playing dixieland in West Coast clubs, then was rediscovered as a soloist in the 1960s and astonished the world with his joyous, swinging technique until a week before he died, one of the finest piano stylists of the century.

He began playing as a sideman in Pittsburgh in 1918 (Duquesne is a suburb or district of Pittsburgh); he was spotted by singer Lois Deppe and toured with her '23; he worked with Armstrong's Chicago Stompers at the Sunset Cafe in Chicago '27: he recorded 'Chicago Breakdown' with a ten-piece group in May '27; then 19 sides with Armstrong and his Hot Five, Savoy Ballroom Five, etc all in '28, all now available in Armstrong collections, including the classic duet 'Weather Bird', with just trumpet and piano. About 17 sides (some now lost) were made with five/six-piece Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra May/August '28. The first records under his own name were eight piano solos for QRS Dec. '28 (the piano roll company also made records), including his own tunes 'Blues In Thirds' (aka 'Caution Blues'), 'A Monday Date', '57 Varieties'. (His complete piano solos to 1940 on Collector's Classics CD were transferred by John R. T. Davies.) Like Armstrong, he invented a style more revolutionary than we can now appreciate: he played rhythmic patterns in his left hand which were an advance over those in ragtime or stride piano; in the right hand he played melody lines high in the treble, perhaps to carry over the sound of a band: this came to be called 'trumpet style'.

This extrovert technique helped make him an excellent bandleader: he recorded with a ten-piece band early '29 which grew into a full-size 'swing band' before the term was used; broadcasts through the '30s from the Grand Terrace ballroom in Chicago of what was called 'western swing' (as opposed to NYC styles) had their impact on the jazz incubator that was Kansas City at the time. He got his nickname 'Fatha' from a radio announcer. 'At the Grand Terrace, I couldn't afford to buy stars, so I had to find them,' he said; a great talent scout, he hired first-class men like trumpeters Shirley Clay (b 1902, Charleston MO; d 7 February 1951, NYC), Freddy Webster (b 1916, Cleveland OH; d 1 April 1947, Chicago), Walter Fuller (b 15 February 1910, Dyersburg TN; d 20 April 2003, San Diego CA; also sang); Trummy Young on trombone (b James Osborne Young, 12 January 1912, Savannah GA; d 10 September 1984, San Jose CA; also sang; later with Jimmie Lunceford then Armstrong's All-Stars), also Budd Johnson, Darnell Howard, Omer Simeon, Ray Nance, Marshal Royal, bassist Truck Parham (d 5 June 2002 in Chicago aged 91), singer Herb Jeffries. He bought arrangements from Horace Henderson, Jimmy Mundy, Eddie Durham, Edgar Battle, Johnson, others.

Hines disbanded '40, perhaps to escape the clutches of Chicago gangsters, and re-formed the same year on the West Coast. Hiring the best, he inevitably had an incubator of bop in mid-'40s with men like Bennie Green, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine, Willie Cook, Wardell Gray. Three two-disc French RCA sets The Indispensable Earl Hines '39-66 included hits 'Boogie Woogie On St Louis Blues', 'Jelly, Jelly' (Eckstine vocal), 'Stormy Monday Blues', 'Second Balcony Jump', also all on Piano Man on Bluebird. Earl Hines And The Duke's Men on Delmark compiles '44 and '47 tracks made for Apollo. He disbanded again '47, joined Armstrong's All-Stars '48-51, led his own small groups at the Hangover Club in San Francisco, toured Europe with a group co-led by Jack Teagarden '57 and ran his own club in Oakland '63; Live At The Crescendo on GNP included Muggsy Spanier and others.

Englishman Stanley Dance made it his mission to promote great jazzmen of the pre-WWII era who were being neglected by the record companies. He made a deal with Decca for nine albums on its subsidiary Felsted label; he produced most of them himself in New York 1958-59, but delegated someone in San Francisco to record Hines. As the LPs were released, he sent copies to his young friend Dan Morgenstern in New York, who with David Himmelstein was getting ready to present weekend concerts at the Little Theater on Broadway. When they heard the Hines record they immediately knew they wanted him to kick off the series. They recruited Dance to talk Hines into coming to New York; he didn't want to play solo concerts, modestly thinking that the public wouldn't sit still for that, but insisted on a rhythm section, and brought Budd Johnson with him. But he did play some solo numbers. There were two concerts, and they were a revelation for the critics. 'Bob Thiele immediately grabbed him for a recording [wrote Morgenstern], Whitney Balliett went gaga in the New Yorker and even John S. Wilson [in the New York Times] showed some enthusiasm.' It was the beginning of an illustrious last act for one of the century's greatest musician.

He toured with a trio or quartet often including Johnson, made scores of LPs in his last two decades, mostly priceless solo sets: he could metaphorically walk a tightrope without falling off, like Art Tatum, but wit and beauty always triumphed over technique for its own sake. Blues And Things '67 was a quartet with an excellent Budd Johnson (see his entry), Jimmy Rushing guesting on four tracks, on a New World CD '97. Small-group sets on Chiaroscuro included At The Overseas Press Club '70 with Maxine Sullivan; Back On The Street '73 with Jonah Jones; An Evening With The Earl Hines Quartet '73, with vocalist Marva Josie; A Buck Clayton Jam Session '74. But the solo albums on the same label were the real revelation. Quintessential Recording Session '69 revisited the eight selections from the Dec. '28 session for QRS, and demonstrated what a great musician Hines really was: the '28 cuts had been brilliant, but episodic (perhaps necessarily, on the limited 78rpm sides); but he had never stopped learning, the years as a bandleader being especially fruitful, and now he became a whole orchestra by himself, the episodes come together as tone poems. More solo albums '73-4 were Live At The New School, Quintessential Continued and Quintessential 1974, Earl Hines In New Orleans '77 (the latter superbly issued on CD with five new tracks).

Solo sets on other labels included Tea For Two '65 on Black Lion, produced by Alan Bates (title cut a daring masterpiece); I've Got The World On A String '66 on the Italian Joker label; Dinah '66 on RCA made in Paris; Earl Hines At Home c'70 on Delmark, taped in Earl's home by Wayne Farlow, with a charming vocal on 'It Happens To Be Me'; Solo Walk In Tokyo '72 on Biograph. Another priceless series was originally on Audiophile: My Tribute To Louis Armstrong, Hines Comes In Handy (songs by W.C. Handy) and Hines Does Hoagy (Carmichael), all made in two days in July '71, a few days after Armstrong died, all compiled '97 as Four Jazz Giants on two-CD Solo Art set. Four LPs of Duke Ellington songs recorded '71-5 have been reissued as three CDs on New World Records ('C-Jam Blues' another exhilarating high-wire act), Plays Cole Porter '74 was only available in Australia until '96, then on New World; and two volumes of Plays George Gershwin recorded in Italy '73 were combined on a Musidisc CD. The Complete Master Jazz Piano Series on Mosaic (four-CD set) included an entire CD of Hines solos '69-72 (plus rare sessions by ten other pianists). He also contributed to the Ry Cooder album Jazz '78.

There were many more Hines compilations and reissues, many of them live concerts, every one a joy; through it all the spirit of a loveable man shines in the music.