HINES, Earl: The Earl

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\The Earl" O riginal Recordings 1928 - 1941

"Fatha could make any old beat-up provincial piano sound like a Bosendorfer concert grand. His large hands covered the keys like tender tarantulas and somehow, within the confines of a dated style, he would manage to sound totally modern almost despite himself."

Mike Zwerin in Close Enough For Jazz (1983) on Hines’ 1967 Russian tour

The acknowledged pioneer of modern jazz piano, Earl Kenneth ‘Fatha’ Hines was born in Duquesne, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 28th December, 1903, into a musical family. His sister, Nancy, was also a pianist and led a band in Pittsburgh. His father, Joseph, played the cornet in street bands and as a child Earl looked set to follow suit until his mother (his first teacher who, like Fats Waller’s mother was also an accomplished church organist) persuaded him at nine to take up piano instead. In 1915, Earl majored in music at Schenley High School (Pittsburgh) where, nurtured on a diet of both classics and regular Czerny exercises, he laid the foundations of his rock-solid technique. Forsaking his original ambition to become a concert pianist, however, by 1920 he had left school and was already making a living as a jazz musician.

In 1918 Earl accompanied singer-saxophonist Lois Deppe who secured him a place in Arthur Rideout’s orchestra and in 1922 directed Deppe’s Pittsburgh Serenaders at the Liederhouse. There, he was to meet two of his strongest formative influences, the pianists Jim Fellman and Johnny Watters. The following year he toured Pennsylvania and Ohio with the Deppe band and worked in Pittsburgh with the Harry Collins orchestra, before moving to Chicago with Deppe. In 1924 he made his first records (accompanying Deppe’s solos on Gennett) before accepting his invitation to play at the Club Elite 2 (a branch of the prestigious Elite night club chain, on Chicago’s South Side ). During 1924 he also led a band at the Chicago Entertainer’s Club and in 1925 toured with Carrol Dickerson’s band for 42 weeks. In 1926, at the Sunset on 35th Street, he became MD of the Hot Stompers, a group formed by Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), with whom he would have a productive relationship as well as an ongoing professional rivalry marked by regular clashes of temperament.

In April 1927 Hines made his first records with Louis, for Vocalion, as a member of Johnny Dodds’s Black Bottom Stompers and, a month later, a solitary item with the Hot Seven – "Chicago Breakdown." Later in 1927, hoping to woo the Sunset’s audience with Armstrong’s Hot Six, with Armstrong and drummer Zutty Singleton (1898-1975) he rented and comanaged the ill-fated Warwick Hall Club in open rivalry with the newly-opened Chicago Savoy. After the venture failed, Earl’s next port of call was the Apex Club across the road from the Sunset and, during a nine-month sojourn there with Jimmy Noone, he cut a dozen sides which still rank among the greatest recorded small-groups, while his simultaneous sessions with Louis’ second Hot Five and other groups produced many classics, including "Fireworks" and "Weather Bird" (a galvanic, labyrinthine Armstrong adaptation of King Oliver’s "Weather Bird Rag"). At the close of 1928, on his 25th birthday, he finally achieved his ambition to be a bandleader when he took his own outfit into Chicago’s Grand Terrace Ballroom. Notable in that it was controlled by Al Capone and his mob, this establishment provided Earl with a virtually unbroken residency throughout the next decade.

From then on, and throughout the Thirties and Forties (until 1947), Hines led innovative yet commercially viable jazz groups in Chicago and New York and, promoted from 1932 by Ed Fox, embarked on grand-scale coast-to-coast tours. He visited East Coast cities and became a regular stage band attraction at dance halls and in both white and black theatres. His band also won renown throughout the United States through regular radio broadcasts, from 1934 onwards. As a bandleader Hines was an influential figure on many counts. He employed talented arrangers, including Quinn Wilson ("Wolverine Blues"), Henri Woode, Budd Johnson and Jimmy Mundy ("Cavernism" and "Copenhagen") and during the Swing Era his outfit was already progressive-sounding, successfully merging elements of Harlem jump with bop ("Indiana, Piano Man" and his US charted hits "Boogie Woogie" On St. Louis Blues and "Number 19"). From about 1941 he openly flirted with bebop; indeed, early manifestations of big-band bebop can be heard in his own big band of that time in "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and "The Earl" (the imaginative tribute by his eighteen-year-old pianist-arranger Mel Powell, aka Melvin Epstein) and he finally embraced fully-fledged modernism from 1942, when he hired Dizzy Gillespie and, later, Charlie Parker and vocalist Sarah Vaughan.

Without underplaying Hines’ importance as a bandleader he was, however, first and foremost a pianist. True, he began as an ensemble player and from this the soloist gradually evolved; but it is as a soloist that he really comes into his own and as a technician that he will continue to interest posterity. Before he broke onto the scene jazz piano had evolved from its ragtime influences via James P. Johnson and (more important in his influence upon Earl) Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941). The first jazz pianist to transcend the ragtime idiom, Hines’ playing retained its essentially inspirational quality and although its basic form evolved little over the years, never seemed to "date". Through his assumption of the "trumpet style" of Armstrong his playing "attained the contours of hornlike phrases"; that is it was often a virtual piano transcription which mirrored Louis’s method. The melody-line in the solos is always smoothly articulate, eschewing all ragtime elements, while in full ensemble context his right hand plays bright, brassy, full-toned runs and tremelos which cut, solo-like, through the ensemble.

After finally disbanding his big band Earl was a member of Louis Armstrong’s All Stars from 1948 until late in 1951. Thereafter, he led his own sextet in residencies and on tour. From 1955 he was in residency at the Hangover Club in San Francisco and in the autumn of 1957 visited Europe with Jack Teagarden and an all-star group. From 1960 he lived with his family in Oakland, California, where he ran his own club from 1963. In 1964 he played successful New York venues at the Little Theatre and Birdland and between 1965 and 1970 made several acclaimed tours to major European centres (including Russia in 1967). During the 1970s he made further tours of Europe, Japan and Australia and was actively performing until the weekend before his death, at Oakland, on April 22, 1983.

Peter Dempsey, 2001

1. COPENHAGEN (Davis–Melrose, arr. Mundy)

Earl Hines, piano, and His Orchestra

(Decca C 9474-A) Recorded 13th September, 1934, in Chicago 0:00

2. WOLVERINE BLUES (Morton, arr. Wilson)

Earl Hines, piano, and His Orchestra

(Decca C 9476-A) Recorded 13th September, 1934, in Chicago 0:00


Earl Hines, piano solo

(Columbia W402210-C) Recorded 9th December, 1928, in Chicago 0:00

4. A MONDAY DATE (Hines)

Earl Hines, piano solo

(Columbia W402211-A) Recorded 9th December, 1928, in Chicago 0:00

5. WEATHER BIRD (Armstrong)

Earl Hines, piano, w
Disc: 1
The Earl
1 Copenhagen (arr. J. Mundy)
2 Wolverine Blues (arr. Q. Wilson)
3 Caution Blues (Blues In Thirds)
4 A Monday Date
5 Weather Bird
6 Fireworks
7 Body and Soul
8 Rosetta (arr. C. Irwin)
9 Honeysuckle Rose
10 Child Of A Disordered Brain
11 Indiana (arr. F. Henderson)
12 I Ain't Got Nobody
13 On The Sunny Side Of The Street
14 Piano Man
15 Lightly And Politely
16 My Melancholy Baby
17 Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues
18 Father Steps In
19 Number 19 (arr. B. Johnson)
20 Deep Forest (arr. R. Crowder)
21 Save It, Pretty Mama
22 The Earl
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