Earl Hines

Charismatic pianist of the early days of jazz whose unusual rhythms changed the course of music.

Earl Kenneth Hines (aka Earl "Fatha" Hines), b. December 28, 1903 in Duquesne, PA, d. April 22, 1983 in Oakland, CA, 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". In 1925, after much family debate, Hines moved to Chicago, Illinois. The city was then the world's jazz capital, home to Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. Hines started in The Elite no. 2 Club but soon joined Carroll Dickerson's band, with whom he also toured on the Pantages Theatre Circuit to Los Angeles and back. Then, in the poolroom at Chicago's Black Musicians' Union, Local 208 on State & 39th, Hines met Louis Armstrong. Hines was 21, Armstrong 24. They played together at the Union piano. 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 became good friends and shared a car. Armstrong joined Hines in Carroll Dickerson's band at the Sunset Cafe. In 1927, this became Armstrong's band under the musical direction of Hines. Later that year, Armstrong revamped his Okeh Records recording-only band, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and replaced his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano with Hines. 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. 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, 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 $3,000 Bechstein 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. The Hines band usually comprised 15-20 musicians on stage, occasionally up to 28. Among the band's many members were Wallace Bishop, Alvin Burroughs, Scoops Carry, Oliver Coleman, Bob Crowder, Thomas Crump, George Dixon, Julian Draper, Streamline Ewing, Ed Fant, Milton Fletcher, Walter Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Leroy Harris, Woogy Harris, Darnell Howard, Cecil Irwin, Harry 'Pee Wee' Jackson, Warren Jefferson, Budd Johnson, Jimmy Mundy, Ray Nance, Charlie Parker, Willie Randall, Omer Simeon, Cliff Smalls, Leon Washington, Freddie Webster, Quinn Wilson and Trummy Young. Occasionally, Hines allowed other pianists to play as "relief" piano player which better allowed Hines to conduct his whole "Organization". Jess Stacy was one, Nat "King" Cole and Teddy Wilson were others (though Cliff Smalls was his favorite). 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 Duke Ellington's America, Harvey G Cohen writes: ... 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, 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. 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. As early as 1940, saxophone player and arranger Budd Johnson had "re-written the book" for the Hines' band in a more modern style. Johnson and Billy Eckstine, Hines vocalist between 1939 and 1943, have been credited with helping to bring modern players into the Hines band in the transition between swing and bebop. Apart from Parker and Gillespie, other Hines 'modernists' included Gene Ammons, Gail Brockman, Scoops Carry, Goon Gardner, Wardell Gray, Bennie Green, Benny Harris, Harry 'Pee-Wee' Jackson, Shorty McConnell, Cliff Smalls, Shadow Wilson and Sarah Vaughan, who replaced Eckstine as the band singer in 1943 and stayed for a year. 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 ($364,044 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 Beat also 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. From then until his death twenty years later, Hines recorded endlessly both solo and with contemporaries like Cat Anderson, Harold Ashby, Barney Bigard, Lawrence Brown, Dave Brubeck (they recorded duets in 1975), Jaki Byard (duets in 1972), Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Cozy Cole, Wallace Davenport, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington (duets in 1966), Ella Fitzgerald, Panama Francis, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Gonsalves, Stephane Grappelli, Sonny Greer, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Peanuts Hucko, Helen Humes, Budd Johnson, Jonah Jones, Max Kaminsky, Gene Krupa, Ellis Larkins, Shelly Manne, Marian McPartland (duets in 1970), Gerry Mulligan, Ray Nance, Oscar Peterson (duets in 1968), Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Rushing, Stuff Smith, Rex Stewart, Maxine Sullivan, Buddy Tate, Jack Teagarden, Clark Terry, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Venuti, Earle Warren, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson (duets in 1965 & 1970), Jimmy Witherspoon, Jimmy Woode and Lester Young. Possibly more surprising were Alvin Batiste, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Teresa Brewer, Barbara Dane, Richard Davis, Elvin Jones, Etta Jones, The Ink Spots, Peggy Lee, Helen Merrill, Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford, Vi Redd, Betty Roche, Caterina Valente, Dinah Washington, and "Ditty Wah Ditty" with Ry Cooder. 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-legged Steinway 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, 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, played sole 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". Hines was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California.

by Scott Yanow
Once called "the first modern jazz pianist," Earl Hines differed from the stride pianists of the 1920s by breaking up the stride rhythms with unusual accents from his left hand. While his right hand often played octaves so as to ring clearly over ensembles, Hines had the trickiest left hand in the business, often suspending time recklessly but without ever losing the beat. One of the all-time great pianists, Hines was a major influence on Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Nat King Cole, and even to an extent on Art Tatum. He was also an underrated composer responsible for "Rosetta," "My Monday Date," and "You Can Depend on Me," among others.

Earl Hines played trumpet briefly as a youth before switching to piano. His first major job was accompanying vocalist Lois Deppe, and he made his first recordings with Deppe and his orchestra in 1922. The following year, Hines moved to Chicago where he worked with Sammy Stewart and Erskine Tate's Vendome Theatre Orchestra. He started teaming up with Louis Armstrong in 1926, and the two masterful musicians consistently inspired each other. Hines worked briefly in Armstrong's big band (formerly headed by Carroll Dickerson), and they unsuccessfully tried to manage their own club. 1928 was one of Hines' most significant years. He recorded his first ten piano solos, including versions of "A Monday Date," "Blues in Thirds," and "57 Varieties." Hines worked much of the year with Jimmy Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, and their recordings are also considered classic. Hines cut brilliant (and futuristic) sides with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, resulting in such timeless gems as "West End Blues," "Fireworks," "Basin Street Blues," and their remarkable trumpet-piano duet "Weather Bird." And on his birthday on December 28, Hines debuted with his big band at Chicago's Grand Terrace.

A brilliant ensemble player as well as soloist, Earl Hines would lead big bands for the next 20 years. Among the key players in his band through the 1930s would be trumpeter/vocalist Walter Fuller, Ray Nance on trumpet and violin (prior to joining Duke Ellington), trombonist Trummy Young, tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, Omer Simeon and Darnell Howard on reeds, and arranger Jimmy Mundy. In 1940, Billy Eckstine became the band's popular singer, and in 1943 (unfortunately during the musicians' recording strike), Hines welcomed such modernists as Charlie Parker (on tenor), trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and singer Sarah Vaughan in what was the first bebop orchestra. By the time the strike ended, Eckstine, Parker, Gillespie, and Vaughan were gone, but tenor Wardell Gray was still around to star with the group during 1945-1946.

In 1948, the economic situation forced Hines to break up his orchestra. He joined the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, but three years of playing second fiddle to his old friend were difficult to take. After leaving Armstrong in 1951, Hines moved to Los Angeles and later San Francisco, heading a Dixieland band. Although his style was much more modern, Hines kept the group working throughout the 1950s, at times featuring Muggsy Spanier, Jimmy Archey, and Darnell Howard. Hines did record on a few occasions, but was largely forgotten in the jazz world by the early '60s. Then, in 1964, jazz writer Stanley Dance arranged for him to play three concerts at New York's Little Theater, both solo and in a quartet with Budd Johnson. The New York critics were amazed by Hines' continuing creativity and vitality, and he had a major comeback that lasted through the rest of his career. Hines traveled the world with his quartet, recorded dozens of albums, and remained famous and renowned up until his death at the age of 79. Most of the many recordings from his career are currently available on CD.