Earl "Fatha" Hines - piano; Al Hall - bass; Al Harewood - drums; Al Casey - guitar; Special guest: Illinois Jacquet - tenor sax
On the eve of the Fourth of July, piano great Earl Hines performed an all-Fats Waller program as part of "A Jazz Salute to the American Song" at Philharmonic Hall. Following a glowing introduction by Newport impresario George Wein ("He just might be the greatest piano player in the world"), the 70-year-old Hines opens his Waller tribute with a spirited and virtuosic rendition of "Black and Blue," replete with staggering stride gestures on the keyboard. He continues his opening solo piano medley with a jaunty rendition of "Two Sleepy People" and a dazzling, uptempo romp through "Ain't Misbehavin'" before he is joined by bassist Al Hall and drummer Al Harewood on an ebullient "Jitterbug Waltz." Guitarist Al Casey, who had actually played with Waller on some of his famous recordings and, like Hines, had also recorded with Louis Armstrong, joins the trio on an engaging "Squeeze Me." Hines then gives a solo taste of Waller's hit song "Honeysuckle Rose" before the three Al's join in on that Swing-era gem. Following a rousing round of applause from the Philharmonic Hall audience, Hines reprises "Honeysuckle Rose" with a charming vocal rendition that has Hall switching to bowed bass. And they close out their July 3rd set with Eubie Blake's popular and poignant composition, "Memories of You," which features a star tune on tenor sax by special guest Illinois Jacquet.
A modern jazz piano pioneer, Earl Hines is like a link between the ragtime players who came before him and more modern virtuosos like Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Oscar Peterson who came after him. A member of Louis Armstrong's groundbreaking Hot Five ensemble from the mid-1920s, Hines is immortalized for his brilliant playing on "West End Blues," "Basin Street Blues" and most significantly for his revolutionary duet with Armstrong on 1928's "Weather Bird." Hines remained a consistently imaginative, vital player and sparkling soloist well into his 70s.
Born on December 28, 1903 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, Hines grew up in a musical family. His father played cornet and was the leader of Pittsburgh's Eureka Brass Band while his mother was a church organist. He started off on trumpet before switching to piano at age 11. At age 17, he joined Lois Deppe & His Symphonian Serenaders and made his first recordings with the group in 1923. He moved to Chicago in 1925 and two years later joined Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, replacing Louis' wife Lil Hardin on piano. He recorded with clarinetist Jimmy Noone before forming his own big band in late 1928. Hines would lead big bands for the next 20 years. Key players in his band through the 1930s included trumpeter-violinist Ray Nance, trombonist Trummy Young and tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson. Singer Billy Eckstine joined the band in 1940 and in 1943 Hines' big band included seminal beboppers Charlie Parker (on tenor sax) and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie along with singer Sarah Vaughan. The group, unfortunately, was never documented on record due to the American Federation of Musicians' recording ban from 1942 to 1944. By the time the strike ended, Eckstine, Parker, Gillespie and Vaughan were gone, but tenor sax great Wardell Gray was still around to star with the group during 1945 to 1946.
By 1948, Hines disbanded his orchestra and joined the Louis Armstrong All-Stars on tour for three years. After leaving Armstrong in 1951, he relocated to San Francisco, where he led a Dixieland band that at times featured such players as trumpeter Muggsy Spanier and trombonist Jimmy Archey. Out of the national spotlight for years, Hines made a comeback in 1964 with a quartet featuring his old colleague Budd Johnson. In 1966, he was named to Down Beat magazine's Hall of Fame. He continued to record frequently through the '60s and '70s, also regularly touring Europe and Asia. Hines died on April 22, 1983 at age 79.
-Written by Bill Milkowski