Earl Kenneth Hines, universally known as Earl "Fatha" Hines (December 28, 1903– April 22, 1983), was an American jazz pianist and bandleader. He was one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz piano and, according to one major source, is "one of a small number of pianists whose playing shaped the history of jazz".
Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, a member of the Earl Hines big-band along with Charlie Parker, wrote, "The piano is the basis of modern harmony. This little guy came out of Chicago, Earl Hines. He changed the style of the piano. You can find the roots of Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, all the guys who came after that. If it hadn't been for Earl Hines blazing the path for the next generation to come, it's no telling where or how they would be playing now. There were individual variations but the style of ... the modern piano came from Earl Hines."
Pianist Lennie Tristano said, "Earl Hines is the only one of us capable of creating real jazz and real swing when playing all alone." Horace Silver said, "He has a completely unique style. No one can get that sound, no other pianist". Erroll Garner said, "When you talk about greatness, you talk about Art Tatum and Earl Hines".
Count Basie said that Hines was, "The greatest piano player in the world".
Earl Hines was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, 12 miles from Pittsburgh city center, in 1903. His father, Joseph Hines, played cornet and was leader of Pittsburgh's Eureka Brass Band, his stepmother a church organist. Hines intended to follow his father on cornet but "blowing" hurt him behind the ears while the piano did not. The young Hines took classical piano lessons and by the age of eleven he was playing the organ in his local Baptist church but he also had a "good ear and a good memory" and could re-play songs and numbers he heard in theaters and park 'concerts': "I'd be playing songs from these shows months before the song copies came out. That astonished a lot of people and they'd ask where I heard these numbers and I'd tell them at the theatre where my parents had taken me." Later, Hines said that he was playing piano around Pittsburgh "before the word 'jazz' was even invented".
With his father's approval, the 17-year-old Hines moved away from home to take a job playing piano with Lois Deppe & his "Symphonian Serenaders" in the Liederhaus, a Pittsburgh nightclub. He got his board, two meals a day and $15 a week. Deppe, a well-known baritone concert-artist who sang both classical and popular numbers, also used the young Hines as his concert accompanist and took Hines on his concert trips to New York. In 1921 Hines and Deppe became the first African Americans ever to perform on radio and, still in the very early days of recordings, Hines' first recordings were accompanying Deppe – four sides recorded with Gennett Records in 1923. Only two of these were issued, one of which was a Hines' composition, "Congaine", "a keen snappy foxtrot", which also featured a Hines solo. Hines entered the studio again with Deppe a month later to record spirituals and popular songs, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "For the Last Time Call Me Sweetheart".
Then, in the poolroom at Chicago's Musicians' Union on State & 39th, Hines met Louis Armstrong. Hines was 21, Armstrong 24. They played together at the Union piano.[nb 4] Armstrong was astounded by Hines's avant-garde "trumpet-style" piano-playing, often using dazzlingly fast octaves so that on none-too-perfect upright pianos (and with no amplification) "they could hear me out front". Richard Cook writes in the Jazz Encyclopedia that:
... [Hines'] most dramatic departure from what other pianists were then playing was his approach to the underlying pulse: he would charge against the metre of the piece being played, accent off-beats, introduce sudden stops and brief silences. In other hands this might sound clumsy or all over the place but Hines could keep his bearings with uncanny resilience.
Armstrong and Hines then recorded what are often regarded as some of the most important jazz records ever made.
... with Earl Hines arriving on piano, Armstrong was already approaching the stature of a concerto soloist, a role he would play more or less throughout the next decade, which makes these final small-group sessions something like a reluctant farewell to jazz's first golden age. Since Hines is also magnificent on these discs (and their insouciant exuberance is a marvel on the duet showstopper "Weather Bird") the results seem like eavesdropping on great men speaking almost quietly among themselves. There is nothing in jazz finer or more moving than the playing on "West End Blues", "Tight Like This", "Beau Koo Jack" and "Muggles".
The Sunset Cafe closed in 1927.[nb 5] Hines, Armstrong and drummer Zutty Singleton agreed that they would become "The Unholy Three" – they would "stick together and not play for anyone unless the three of us were hired". But as 'Louis Armstrong and his Stompers' (with Hines as musical director and the premises rented in Hines' name), they ran into difficulties trying to establish their own venue, the Warwick Hall Club. Hines went briefly to New York and returned to find that Armstrong and Singleton had re-joined their now-rival Carroll Dickerson's band at the new The Savoy Ballroom in his absence,[nb 6] leaving Hines feeling "warm". When Armstrong and Singleton later asked him to join them with Dickerson at The Savoy Ballroom, Hines said, "No, you guys left me in the rain and broke the little corporation we had".
Hines joined clarinetist Jimmie Noone at The Apex, an after-hours speakeasy, playing from midnight to 6am, seven nights a week. In 1928, he recorded with Noone (14 sides), then again with Armstrong (for a total of 38 sides with Armstrong), and recorded his first piano solos late in 1928: eight for QRS Records in New York then seven for Okeh Records in Chicago, all except two his own compositions.
Hines moved in with Kathryn Perry (with whom he had recorded "Sadie Green The Vamp of New Orleans"). Hines said of Perry that, "She'd been at The Sunset too, in a dance act. She was a very charming, pretty girl. She had a good voice and played the violin. I had been divorced and she became my common-law wife. We lived in a big apartment and her parents stayed with us". Perry recorded several times with Hines, including "Body & Soul" in 1935. They stayed together till 1940 when Hines "divorced" her to marry Ann Jones Reed, but this was soon "indefinitely postponed". Hines then married Janie Moses in 1947 and they had two daughters, Janear (born 1950) and Tosca. Both of Hines' daughters died before him: Tosca in 1976 and Janear in 1981. Janie divorced him on June 14, 1979.
On December 28, 1928 (so on his 25th birthday and six weeks before the Saint Valentine's Day massacre) the always-immaculate Hines opened at Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe leading his own big band, the pinnacle of jazz ambition at the time. "All America was dancing", Hines said, and for the next 12 years and through the worst of the Great Depression and Prohibition, Hines' band was "The Orchestra" at The Grand Terrace. The Hines Orchestra – or 'Organization' as Hines preferred it – had up to 28 musicians and did three shows a night at The Grand Terrace, four shows every Saturday and sometimes Sundays. According to Stanley Dance, "Earl Hines and The Grand Terrace were to Chicago what Duke Ellington and The Cotton Club were to New York - but fierier."
The Grand Terrace was controlled by Al Capone, so Hines became Capone's "Mr Piano Man" with the Grand Terrace upright piano soon replaced by a white $3,000Bechstein grand. Talking about those days Hines later said:
... Al [Capone] came in there one night and called the whole band and show together and said, "Now we want to let you know our position. We just want you people just to attend to your own business. We'll give you all the Protection in the world but we want you to be like the 3 monkeys: you hear nothing and you see nothing and you say nothing". And that's what we did. And I used to hear many of the things that they were going to do but I never did tell anyone. Sometimes the Police used to come in ... looking for a fall guy and say, "Earl what were they talking about?" ... but I said, "I don't know - no, you're not going to pin that on me," because they had a habit of putting the pictures of different people that would bring information in the newspaper and the next day you would find them out there in the lake somewhere swimming around with some chains attached to their feet if you know what I mean.
From The Grand Terrace, Hines and his band broadcast on "open mikes" over many years, sometimes seven nights a week, coast-to-coast across America – Chicago being well placed to deal with the U.S. live-broadcasting time-zone problem. Hines' became the most broadcast band in America. Among his listeners were a young Nat "King" Cole and Jay McShann in Kansas City, who said his "real education came from Earl Hines. When 'Fatha' went off the air, I went to bed." But Hines' most significant "student" was Art Tatum.
Each summer, Hines toured his whole band for three months, including through the South – the first black big-band to do so. He explained, "[when] we traveled by train through the South, they would send a porter back to our car to let us know when the dining room was cleared, and then we would all go in together. We couldn't eat when we wanted to. We had to eat when they were ready for us."
... In 1931, Earl Hines and his Orchestra "were the first big Negro band to travel extensively through the South". Hines referred to it as an "invasion" rather than a "tour". Between a bomb exploding under their bandstage in Alabama (" ...we didn't none of us get hurt but we didn't play so well after that either") and numerous threatening encounters with the Police, the experience proved so harrowing that Hines in the 1960s recalled that, "You could call us the first Freedom Riders". For the most part, any contact with whites, even fans, was viewed as dangerous. Finding places to eat or stay overnight entailed a constant struggle. The only non-musical 'victory' that Hines claimed was winning the respect of a clothing-store owner who initially treated Hines with derision until it became clear that Hines planned to spend $85 on shirts, "which changed his whole attitude".
It was from Hines that saxophonist Charlie Parker gained his big break, until he was fired for his "time-keeping" – by which Hines meant Parker's inability to show up on time despite Parker resorting to sleeping under the band stage in his attempts to do so. The Grand Terrace Cafe had closed suddenly in December 1940 with the manager, "Cigar-puffing Ed Fox", 'not to be found'. The 37-year-old Hines, always famously good to work for,took his band on the road full-time for the next 8 years,[nb 7] resisting renewed offers from Benny Goodman to join his band as piano-player.
Several of the Hines band members were drafted to fight in World War II – a major problem.[nb 8] Six members were drafted in 1943 alone. As a result, on 19 August 1943, Hines had to cancel the rest of his Southern tour.He went to New York and hired a 'draft-proof' 12-piece all-women group, which lasted two months. Next, Hines expanded it into a 28-piece band (17 men, 11 women) including strings and French horn. Despite these war-time difficulties, Hines toured his bands coast-to-coast across America but was still able to take time out from his own band to front the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1944 when Ellington fell ill.
It was during this time (and especially during the 1942–44 musicians' strike recording ban) that members of the Hines' band's late-night jam-sessions laid the seeds for the emerging new style in jazz, bebop. Ellington later said that, "the seeds of bop were in Earl Hines's piano style", while Charlie Parker's biographer Ross Russell wrote:
... The Earl Hines Orchestra of 1942 had been infiltrated by the jazz revolutionaries. Each section had its cell of insurgents. The band's sonority bristled with flatted fifths, off triplets and other material of the new sound scheme. Fellow bandleaders of a more conservative bent warned Hines that he had recruited much too well and was sitting on a powder keg.
Dizzy Gillespie, in the Hines band at the time, said:
... People talk about the Hines band being 'the incubator of bop' and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here ... naturally each age has got its own shit.
The links to bebop remained close. Parker's discographer, among others, has argued that "Yardbird Suite", which Parker recorded with Miles Davis in March 1946, was in fact based on Hines' "Rosetta", which nightly served as the Hines band theme-tune.
Dizzy Gillespie described the Hines band, saying, "We had a beautiful, beautiful band with Earl Hines. He's a master and you learn a lot from him, self-discipline and organization."
In July 1946, Hines received serious head injuries in a car crash near Houston which, despite an operation, affected his eyesight for the rest of his life. Back on the road again four months later, he continued to lead his big band for two more years. In 1947, Hines bought the biggest nightclub in Chicago, The El Grotto, but it soon foundered with Hines losing $30,000 ($362,816 today). The big-band era was over – Hines had had his for 20 years.
In early 1948, Hines joined up again with Armstrong in what became the "Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars" 'small-band'. It was not without its strains for Hines. A year later, Armstrong became the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time Magazine (on February 21, 1949). Armstrong was by then on his way to becoming an American icon, leaving Hines to feel he was now being used as only a sideman in comparison to his old friend. Armstrong said of the difficulties, mainly over billing, "Hines and his ego, ego, ego ...." but after 3 years and to Armstrong's annoyance, in 1951 Hines left the All-Stars.
Next, back as leader again, Hines took his own small combos around the States. He started with a markedly more modern line-up than the ageing "All Stars": Bennie Green, Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, Etta Jones. In 1954, he toured his then seven-piece group nationwide with the Harlem Globetrotters, but, at the start of the jazz-lean 1960s and old enough to retire, Hines settled "home" in Oakland, California, with his wife and two young daughters, Janear and Tosca, opened a tobacconist's, and came close to giving up the profession.
Then, in 1964, thanks to Stanley Dance, Hines' determined friend and unofficial manager, Hines was "suddenly rediscovered" following a series of recitals at The Little Theatre in New York that Dance had cajoled him into. They were the first piano recitals Hines had ever given; they caused a sensation. "What is there left to hear after you've heard Earl Hines?", asked The New York Times's John Wilson. Hines then won the 1966 "International Critics Poll" for Down Beat Magazine's "Hall of Fame". Down Beatalso elected him the world's "No. 1 Jazz Pianist" in 1966 (and did so again five further times). Jazz Journal awarded his LPs of the year first and second in their overall poll and first, second and third in their piano category. Jazz voted him "Jazzman of the Year", voted him their no. 1 and no. 2 in their piano recordings category and he was on Johnny Carson's and Mike Douglas' TV shows.
But the most highly regarded recordings of this period are his solo performances, "a whole orchestra by himself". Whitney Balliett wrote of his solo recordings and performances of this time:
... Hines will be sixty-seven this year and his style has become involuted, rococo, and subtle to the point of elusiveness. It unfolds in orchestral layers and it demands intense listening. Despite the sheer mass of notes he now uses, his playing is never fatty. Hines may go along like this in a medium tempo blues. He will play the first two choruses softly and out of tempo, unreeling placid chords that safely hold the kernel of the melody. By the third chorus, he will have slid into a steady but implied beat and raised his volume. Then, using steady tenths in his left hand, he will stamp out a whole chorus of right-hand chords in between beats. He will vault into the upper register in the next chorus and wind through irregularly placed notes, while his left hand plays descending, on-the-beat, chords that pass through a forest of harmonic changes. (There are so many push-me, pull-you contrasts going on in such a chorus that it is impossible to grasp it one time through.) In the next chorus—bang!—up goes the volume again and Hines breaks into a crazy-legged double-time-and-a-half run that may make several sweeps up and down the keyboard and that are punctuated by offbeat single notes in the left hand. Then he will throw in several fast descending two-fingered glissandos, go abruptly into an arrhythmic swirl of chords and short, broken, runs and, as abruptly as he began it all, ease into an interlude of relaxed chords and poling single notes. But these choruses, which may be followed by eight or ten more before Hines has finished what he has to say, are irresistible in other ways. Each is a complete creation in itself, and yet each is lashed tightly to the next.
Solo tributes to Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Ellington, George Gershwin and Cole Porter were all put on record in the 1970s, sometimes on the 1904 12-leggedSteinway given to him in 1969 by Scott Newhall, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1974, now in his seventies, Hines recorded sixteen LPs. "A spate of solo recording meant that, in his old age, Hines was being comprehensively documented at last, and he rose to the challenge with consistent inspirational force".Between his 1964 "come-back" and up to when he died, Hines recorded over 100 LPs all over the world. Within the industry, he became legendary for going into a studio and coming out an hour-and-a-half later having recorded an unplanned solo LP. Retakes were almost unheard of except when Hines wanted to try a tune again in some, often completely, "other way".
From 1964 on, Hines often toured Europe, especially France. He toured South America in 1968 and then added Asia, Australia, Japan and, in 1966, the Soviet Union to his list of State Department-funded destinations. During his 6-week and 35-concert Soviet Union tour, the 10,000-seat Kiev Sports Palace was sold out. As a result, the Kremlin cancelled his Moscow and Leningrad concerts as being "too culturally dangerous".
Arguably still playing as well as he ever had,[nb 10] Hines displayed individualistic quirks (including grunts) in these performances. He sometimes sang as he played, especially his own, "They Didn't Believe I Could Do It ... Neither Did I". In 1975, Hines was the subject of an hour-long television documentary film made by ATV (for Britain's commercial ITV channel), out-of-hours at the Blues Alley nightclub in Washington, DC. The International Herald Tribune described it as "The greatest jazz film ever made". In the film, Hines said, "The way I like to play is that ... I'm an explorer, if I might use that expression, I'm looking for something all the time ... almost like I'm trying to talk." He played solo at Duke Ellington's funeral, twice in the White House, for the President of France and for The Pope. Of this acclaim, Hines said, "Usually they give people credit when they're dead. I got my flowers while I was living".
Hines' last show took place in San Francisco a few days before he died in Oakland. As he had wished, his Steinway was auctioned for the benefit of gifted low-income music students, still bearing its silver plaque:
"presented by jazz lovers from all over the world. this piano is the only one of its kind in the world and expresses the great genius of a man who has never played a melancholy note in his lifetime on a planet that has often succumbed to despair".
The Oxford Companion to Jazz describes Hines as "The most important pianist in the transition from stride to swing" and continues:
... As he matured through the 1920s, he simplified the stride "orchestral piano", eventually arriving at a prototypical swing style. The right hand no longer developed syncopated patterns around pivot notes (as in ragtime) or between-the-hands figuration (as in stride) but instead focused on a more directed melodic line, often doubled at the octave with phrase-ending tremolos. This line was called the "trumpet" right hand because of its markedly hornlike character but in fact the general trend toward a more linear style can be traced back through stride and Jelly Roll Morton to late ragtime from 1915 to 1920.
Hines himself described meeting Armstrong:
... Louis looked at me so peculiar. So I said, "Am I making the wrong chords?" And he said, "No, but your style is like mine". So I said, "Well, I wanted to play trumpet but it used to hurt me behind my ears so I played on the piano what I wanted to play on the trumpet". And he said, "No, no, that's my style, that's what I like."
... I was curious and wanted to know what the chords were made of. I would begin to play like the other instruments. But in those days we didn't have amplification, so the singers used to use megaphones and they didn't have grand-pianos for us to use at the time – it was an upright. So when they gave me a solo, playing single fingers like I was doing, in those great big halls they could hardly hear me. So I had to think of something so I could cut through the big-band. So I started to use what they call 'trumpet-style' – which was octaves. Then they could hear me out front and that's what changed the style of piano playing at that particular time.
... Hines was both a great soloist and a great rhythm player. He has a beautiful powerful rhythmic approach to the keyboard and his rhythms are more eccentric than those of Art Tatum or Fats Waller. When I say eccentric, I mean getting away from straight 4/4 rhythm. He would play a lot of what we now call 'accent on the and beat'. ... It was a subtle use of syncopation, playing on the in-between beats or what I might call and beats: one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and. The and between "one-two-three-four" is implied, When counted in music, the and becomes what are called eighth notes. So you get eight notes to a bar instead of four, although they're spaced out in the time of four. Hines would come in on those and beats with the most eccentric patterns that propelled the rhythm forward with such tremendous force that people felt an irresistible urge to dance or tap their feet or otherwise react physically to the rhythm of the music. ... Hines is very intricate in his rhythm patterns: very unusual and original and there is really nobody like him. That makes him a giant of originality. He could produce improvised piano solos which could cut through to perhaps 2,000 dancing people just like a trumpet or a saxophone could.
The 2009 book Jazz says of the Hines style of the time:
... To make [himself] audible, [Hines] developed an ability to improvise in tremolos (the speedy alternation of two or more notes, creating a pianistic version of the brass man's vibrato) and octaves or tenths: instead of hitting one note at a time with his right hand, he hit two and with vibrantly percussive force – his reach was so large that jealous competitors spread the ludicrous rumor that he had had the webbing between his fingers surgically removed.
Of Hines' later style, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz says of Hines' 1965 style:
... [Hines] uses his left hand sometimes for accents and figures that would only come from a full trumpet section. Sometimes he will play chords that would have been written and played by five saxophones in harmony. But he is always the virtuoso pianist with his arpeggios, his percussive attack and his fantastic ability to modulate from one song to another as if they were all one song and he just created all those melodies during his own improvisation.
Later still, then in his seventies and after a number solo recordings, Hines himself said:
... I'm an explorer if I might use that expression. I'm looking for something all the time. And oft-times I get lost. And people that are around me a lot know that when they see me smiling, they know I'm lost and I'm trying to get back. But it makes it much more interesting because then you do things that surprise yourself. And after you hear the recording, it makes you a little bit happy too because you say, "Oh, I didn't know I could do THAT!"
Hines' first-ever recording was, apparently, made on October 3, 1923 at Richmond, Indiana, when he was aged 19. Records commercially available as new, as of March 2012, are shown emboldened in the lists below.
The 1930s, classic jazz and the swing era:
Louis Armstrong & Earl Hines: inc. "Weatherbird", "Muggles", "Tight Like This", "West End Blues": Columbia 1928: reissued many times inc. as The Smithsonian CollectionMLP 2012
Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines: "At the Apex Club": Decca Volume 1 1928: reissued 1967 : Decca Jazz Heritage Series
Earl Hines Solo: 14 of his own compositions: QRS & OKeh: 1928/9: reissued many times (see below)
Earl Hines Collection: Piano Solos 1928-40: OKeh/Brunswick/Bluebird: Collectors Classics
That's a Plenty, Quadromania series 1928-1947 Membran, four CDs, 2006, an easily available collection
Deep Forest, ca. 1932-1933: HEP
'Swingin' Down, 1932-1934: HEP
Harlem Lament, 1933-1934, 1937-1938: Columbia
Earl Hines - South Side Swing 1934-1935: Decca
Earl Hines - The Grand Terrace Band: RCA Victor Vintage Series
[Besides the piano solos Hines recorded for QRS (1928) and OKeh (1928), in 1929 Hines signed to Victor and recorded a number of sides in 1929. In 1932, he signed with Brunswick and recorded with them through mid-1934 when he signed with Decca. He recorded 3 sessions for Decca in 1934 and early 1935. He did not record again until February, 1937 when he signed with Vocalion, for whom he recorded 4 sessions through March 1938. After another gap, he signed with Victor's Bluebird label in July 1939 and recorded prolifically right up the recording ban in mid-1942]
Swing to bebop transition years, 1939-1945: (Big bands were particularly affected by the 1942-1944 American Federation of Musicians recording ban which also curtailed the recording of early bebop)
The Indispensable Earl Hines: Vols 1, 2, 1939-1940, Jazz Tribune/BMG
The Indispensable Earl Hines: Vols 3, 4, 1939-1942, 1945, Jazz Tribune/BMG