By Hal Smith
EARL HINES, piano
b. Duquesne, PA. 12/28/03 d. Oakland, CA 4/22/83
Earl Hines was one of the most revolutionary piano stylists of the 20th Century, bridging the gap between ragtime and the New Orleans style of Jelly Roll Morton, the stride piano of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller and the modern sounds of Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans and others.
Hines came from a musical family and learned to play the organ, then the piano at home. When he was still in high school, Hines was working professionally at the Leader House in Pittsburgh with a trio led by saxophonist/vocalist Lois Deppe. Hines already had a good ear for learning songs, and the ability to improvise when he began listening to local pianists such as Jim Fellman and Johnny Watters. Hines plied the pianists with tobacco and alcohol, and they taught him how to use devices like tenths in the left hand. Hines’ own piano style was rapidly developing, and an early example of it can be heard on the recording of his own composition “Congaine,” made in 1923. As Hines played with larger bands, he devised ways to be heard above the ensemble, playing in octaves and using tremolos. Hines was also inspired by the great cornetist Joe Smith in his approach to playing the melody and improvising.
In the mid-‘20s, many of Earl Hines’ musical associates encouraged him to try working in Chicago. He made the move, and before long was working in Erskine Tate’s Orchestra at the Vendome Theater. On trumpet with the Tate Orchestra was young Louis Armstrong, who had recently returned to Chicago from an extended stay in New York City. Hines and Armstrong hit it off, both musically and personally. In particular, Hines began to incorporate Armstrong-style, single note lines when he improvised. Eventually, this approach was labeled 'trumpet-style piano.' Hines and Armstrong also worked together in Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra at the Sunset Café and made their first recordings together.
Hines played with a variety of musicians and entertainers in Chicago, including vocalist Ethel Waters and tap-dancer Bill Robinson. He recorded in a variety of settings: solos for QRS and OKeh, band pianist with the Louisville Stompers (Hines described them as a “hillbilly band from Kentucky”), vocal accompaniments for Lillie Delk Christian, and classic sides with Armstrong, including Armstrong’s masterpiece “West End Blues” and an extraordinary trumpet-piano duet on “Weather Bird."
In 1928 Hines also joined clarinetist Jimmie Noone’s quintet, which played regularly at the Apex Club on Chicago’s South Side. Noone’s group featured an unusual instrumentation: alto sax, clarinet, piano, banjo, and drums. The leader was featured heavily on clarinet, and influenced every young reedman who heard him play, including Benny Goodman, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Dorsey, and Pee Wee Russell.
On Noone’s records, Hines’ fully-developed piano style can be heard clearly throughout every performance. His use of octaves, ringing tremolos, 'walking tenths' in the left hand, and rhythmic arpeggios suspended in time electrified nearly every pianist in Chicago. Within a short time, Hines could claim a long list of both African-American and white pianists as disciples: Alex Hill, Teddy Wilson, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, William Barbee, Zinky Cohn, Cassino Simpson, Earl Frazier, Ralph Tervalon, Tut Soper and many others.
Eventually Hines and Noone had a falling out and the pianist left the Apex Club to search for steady employment. He did not have to wait long. In December 1928, Hines, together with several top Chicago musicians and a small group of entertainers, opened the brand-new Grand Terrace on Chicago’s South Side. The Grand Terrace’s success made the club a tempting target for underworld takeover, and it was under Mob ownership within two years of opening. There was a real danger of open warfare erupting in the club between rival gangs, but there were also benefits. The gangsters tipped well and frequently. Hines recalled that Al Capone would often straighten the pianist’s handkerchief, leaving a hundred dollar bill in his pocket, or shake hands and press a large denomination bill into Hines’ palm. And when the band went on tour, Capone assigned bodyguards to ensure that nothing happened to the Grand Terrace’s most valuable asset.
Besides earning a steady income during the Depression, augmented with tips, Hines and his musicians were also heard across the country when a radio wire was installed in the Grand Terrace. The broadcasts reached a wide audience and even more pianists were influenced by the dazzling Hines piano style: Mary Lou Williams and Count Basie in the Midwest, Stan Kenton in the West, and Horace Henderson and Erroll Garner in the Northeast. During one broadcast from the Grand Terrace, Hines acquired the nickname that stayed with him for the rest of his career. One night as the orchestra played “Deep Forest,” their theme song, the announcer was trying to shake off the effects of having consumed too much wine. As the first notes of the theme were played, he announced “Here comes ‘Fatha’ Hines, with all his little children, marching through the Deep Forest!” With so many royal titles in use during the Swing Era (Count, Duke, King of Swing), it was fitting that the 'Fatha' of modern jazz piano should be so named.
In 1940, the Great Revival was beginning to take root. New Orleans reedman Sidney Bechet and drummer Baby Dodds were two veterans whose careers were given a much-needed boost by the revival of interest in older styles of jazz. On a recording session for RCA Victor, Hines joined Dodds and bassist John Lindsay in the rhythm section, backing Bechet on clarinet and soprano sax, with Hines’ vocalist Herb Jeffries singing a tribute to the late Johnny Dodds. Hines’ playing illustrated that the pianist was looking forward, but still knew how to play in an older-style setting. That same year, the engagement at the Grand Terrace ended when Hines departed the club in the midst of a legal dispute with owner Ed Fox. Hines organized a group to perform at another Chicago nightclub, the El Grotto. At various times during the ‘40s, Hines’ orchestra included vocalists like Sarah Vaughn and Johnny Hartman, revolutionary modernists Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, an all-female vocal ensemble, and even a string section. However, the demands of leading a big band began to wear on Hines, and by the end of the decade he was more than ready to accept an offer to work as a sideman.
The Great Revival had made it possible for Louis Armstrong’s return to playing in a small ensemble, and thus the All-Stars debuted in 1947. The following year Hines played with the band at the Festival du Jazz in Nice, France and within a short time, Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser invited Hines to join the All-Stars full-time. In addition to Armstrong and Hines, the All-Stars included Jack Teagarden on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Arvell Shaw on bass, Big Sid Catlett on drums, and Velma Middleton on vocals. Though many purists were put off by the band’s swinging approach to classic jazz, the All-Stars were a great success and their engagement book was full, including an appearance at Club Hangover in San Francisco.
In 1951, Armstrong and Hines clashed over billing and other matters. Hines left the band and worked with other groups until 1955, when he received an invitation from Club Hangover’s owner Doc Daugherty to work steadily in San Francisco. Initially, Hines led a mainstream-type band called the Esquire All-Stars, but Daugherty asked him to re-launch as a Dixieland group since that type of jazz remained popular in the Bay Area. After some trial and error, Hines wound up with a band which included several musicians whose careers were rejuvenated due to the Great Revival’s prominence in San Francisco: Muggsy Spanier, cornet; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Darnell Howard, clarinet; Pops Foster, bass; and Earl Watkins, drums. The Dixieland group was a huge success, and Hines decided to relocate to the Bay Area. He continued to work frequently at Club Hangover until 1961, then led the band at a brief engagement at the Black Sheep Club. After disbanding the All-Stars, Hines took whatever work he could find, including an appearance with bassist Johnny Green and drummer Earl Watkins on Ralph Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” television series.
As the influence of the Revival began to wane, Hines found it increasingly difficult to find musical work. He became so discouraged that he temporarily abandoned music and opened a tobacco shop. However, British jazz critic/author Stanley Dance convinced Hines to return to music. He played a memorable concert at the Little Theater in New York City, toured Europe in 1965, and organized a new quartet/quintet to tour the United States and Canada. A highlight of Hines’ later years was a concert at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where he performed on a 1904 Sherman-Clay piano, the gift of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Newhall. Hines continued to use Oakland as a home base while he toured the U.S., Europe and Russia and performed at the White House. He passed away at his Oakland home in 1983.
Bay Area Recordings by Earl Hines
Benny Carter Quartet (Carter, Hines, Leroy Vinnegar, Shelly Manne): Swingin’ The ‘20s Original Jazz Classics OJC CD 339 – 2
Barbara Dane: Livin’ With the Blues Dreadnaught 1603
Earl “Fatha” Hines All-Stars: Live at the Black Sheep, San Francisco 1961 Acrobat ADD CD 3075 (two CD set)
Earl “Fatha” Hines Live at the Crescendo Vol. 2 GNP-Crescendo GNPD 9054
Earl “Fatha” Hines Featuring Muggsy Spanier: Live in San Francisco, 1957 Grammercy Jazz 388
Earl “Fatha” Hines Plays Hits He Missed M&K Realtime RT 105 (Vinyl LP; out of print)
Earl Hines All-Stars Featuring Muggsy Spanier: Live at Club Hangover, San Francisco Apr. – May 1957 Acrobat ADD CD 3174 (two CD set)
Earl Hines and his Esquire All Stars: Live at Club Hangover, Jan. – Feb. 1954 Acrobat ADD CD 3107
Earl Hines and Jimmy Rushing: Blues and Things New World 80465-2 *
Earl Hines: Another Monday Date Prestige P 24043 (2 CD set)
Earl Hines at Home Delmark DE 212
Earl Hines at the Party Delmark DE 535
Earl Hines: Honor Thy Fatha Drive Archive DE 2 - 41034
Earl Hines/Muggsy Spanier All Stars: The Chicago Sessions Storyville STCD 6037
The Incomparable Earl Hines Tops L 1599 (Vinyl LP; out of print)
Note: There is duplication of material between the Hines/Spanier CDs listed above. Despite the fact that GNP-Crescendo 9054 and Storyville 6037 indicate different venues, all the tracks were recorded at Club Hangover. The GNP CD is labeled “Vol. 2,”but there is no “Vol. 1” in existence.
Real Gone Jazz RGJD 468 (4 CD set) includes material from “Fatha Plays Fats,” “Solo – 1956” (both reissued on Prestige P 24043) plus “The Incomparable Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines,” Barbara Dane “Livin’ With The Blues,” and “A Monday Date” – featuring Hines’ All Stars, recorded in Chicago after Club Hangover closed down.
Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual: Louis Armstrong/Earl Hines Idem Home Video – IDVD1004
Note: In addition to the trio performances by Hines, Green and Watkins from “Jazz Casual,” the remainder of the disc consists of Ralph Gleason interviewing Louis Armstrong from a different “Jazz Casual” program.
Dance, Stanley: The World of Earl Hines. Scribners, New York, 1977.
Riccardi, Ricky: What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years. Pantheon Books, New York, 2011
AUTHOR'S CONVERSATIONS AND CORRESPONDENCE REGARDING EARL HINES
Boeddinghaus, David (musician); Dance, Stanley (writer); Dapogny, James (musician); Dawson, Chris (musician); Gordon, Bobby (musician); Hyman, Dick (musician); Mazetier, Louis (musician); Mielke, Bob (musician); Kellin, Orange (musician); O’Neal, Hank (record producer); Roberts, Tom (musician); Schumm, Andy (musician); Sheridan, John (musician); Spanier, Ruth (Mrs. Muggsy Spanier); Tokarski, Kris (musician)