Hines, Earl “Fatha”
Earl “Fatha” Hines
With his muscled arms and compact, powerful hands, Earl Hines embraced nearly every era of jazz pianism. Credited by many with transforming the idiom with his “trumpet style” keyboard approach, Hines served as a beacon for such followers as Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Nat Cole, Bud Powell, Stan Kenton, and Oscar Peterson. While he led the band at Chicago’s Grand Terrace Cafe his career paralleled that of Duke Ellington in New York’s Cotton Club; his swinging ensemble pre-dated Benny Goodman’s “King of Swing” orchestra of 1935.
Hines enjoys almost unanimous regard among fellow pianists and critics as one of the geniuses on his instrument. His professionalism and ability to communicate with an audience were unparalleled. His range of expertise as a pianist reached from solo piano to small combos to vocal accompaniment to string-augmented big band. And though Hines always maintained that he considered himself to be a band pianist rather than a soloist, some of the solo work recorded near the end of his 60-year career is astonishing in its impact.
Born near Pittsburgh in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, in 1905, Earl Kenneth Hines heard good music very early. His father, a foreman at the local coal dock, played cornet; his stepmother, who entered his life when he was only three, was an organist; a live-in uncle was master of several brass instruments. After a brief fling with the cornet, Earl took to the piano and applied himself, both with school training and excellent private lessons, toward the goal of becoming a concert pianist. At this time, in addition to great pianistic dexterity, he developed a facility as a reader of music that served him throughout his career.
When he moved to Pittsburgh to attend high school while living with an aunt who sang light opera, Hines was exposed to a broader world of music and introduced to such luminaries as composers/band leaders Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. That new, broader world included jazz. The sounds and rhythms of 1919 Pittsburgh’s Wylie Street night spots were irresistible to the 14-year-old Earl Hines.
Soon he formed his own trio and continued to soak up the sounds of the more experienced players as he performed at parties and socials. Lois Deppe, a popular baritone and band leader on Wylie Street, took note of Hines’s keyboard agility and reading ability and hired him in 1921. His brilliance quickly drew the attention of admiring Leader House club patrons as well as local musicians.
For the Record…
Born Earl Kenneth Hines, December 28, 1905, in Duquesne, PA; died April 22, 1983, in Oakland, CA; father, Joseph, was a cornetist; stepmother, Mary, played organ. Education: Studied classical music with Von Holz.
Formed a jazz trio at age 14 in Pittsburgh, PA; hired at age 16 by bandleader Lois Deppe and toured Ohio, West Virginia, and New York City; made first records, 1923; moved to Chicago, 1925; played with his own group and with Jimmy Noone and Louis Armstrong, 1928; became leader of band at Grand Terrace nightclub, beginning in 1928; led modern touring group with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Billy Eckstine, early 1940s; returned to Armstrong’s All Stars, 1948-51; “re-discovered” at Little Theatre concerts and resumed world tours and active recording career, 1964-83.
Awards: Esquire Silver Award, 1944; elected to Jazz Hall of Fame, 1965.
During that two-year stay with Deppe, Hines was rapidly developing a personal style. He gave credit to several local pianists for influencing him, but Hines maintained that his major influence was trumpeter Joe Smith. The pianist’s repertoire broadened as his performances ranged from the showy, jazz-oriented tunes in the club to light classics and church recitals, usually accompanying Deppe. Visiting musicians soon made it a point to check out the young phenomenon. With the Deppe band he branched out to Ohio, West Virginia, and New York City. As the band grew in size as well as popularity, Hines developed his famous right hand octave doubling technique—the trumpet style—as a way to cut through the sound of the other instruments with his unamplified piano. In October of 1923, not yet 18, Hines cut his first records, including one original composition, with Deppe at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana.
In 1924 Hines left Deppe to form another band of his own, one that included the multi-talented Benny Carter on saxophone. Then, heeding the admonition of Blake to leave Pittsburgh and showcase his talents elsewhere, Hines moved to Chicago, landing in the midst of such players as King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman, Frank Teschemacher, and, especially, Louis Armstrong.
The handsome, personable pianist quickly developed a following, while continuing his on-the-job training in a variety of settings. Hines and Armstrong formed a musical bond and, with drummer Zutty Singleton, began playing together at the Sunset Cafe, which quickly became the “in” place on Chicago’s South Side for musicians as well as for gangsters and other big-spending customers. As Hines told biographer Stanley Dance of his association with Armstrong, “When we were playing together it was like a continuous jam session. I’d steal ideas from him and he’d steal them from me. He’d bend over after a solo and say... “Thank you, man.’” The temporary 1927 closing of the club led to a breakup of the Hines/Armstrong/Singleton combo and Hines soon joined clarinetist Jimmie Noone’s band at the nearby Apex Club.
In the last eight months of 1928 Hines made records with Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra and with Louis Armstrong, some with Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, that are among the most celebrated in jazz recording. The fully-developed piano style of Hines, not yet 23, shines through on all these sides; amazingly, his playing here still sounds fresh. One gem, “Weather Bird,” showcases simply Hines and Armstrong in a remarkable duet on which they stretch the rhythmic and harmonic borders in ways that had not previously been recorded.
In his The Swing Era, Gunther Schuller writes that Hines’s recordings of this time “reveal a manual ambidexterity and agility of mind that was unprecedented in jazz piano.... Any idea that came into his head was instantly transferable to his obedient fingers.” Schuller and other writers point out that Hines often appeared to be staging a challenge, a competition, between his right and left hand as to which one could produce the greater surprises while still sounding integrated. This characteristic remained with Hines throughout his career, as did his penchant for “broken” rhythms in which he avoided a strict four-beats-to-the-bar in favor of multiple variations in meter.
At the end of 1928, on his twenty-third birthday, Hines began a new phase of his career as he took over as bandleader at the Grand Terrace, one of Chicago’s most beautiful and popular night clubs. Here, under the protective eye of Al Capone, Hines held forth for eleven years, interrupted by increasingly long annual forays on the road as the band’s popularity fanned outward. In his liner notes for Earl Hines —South Side Swing, biographer Dance wrote that “from 1934 onwards, the Hines band enjoyed more radio air time than any other in the U.S.” This air time helped Hines attract and develop many gifted players and arrangers, both at the Grand Terrace and later. Among the musicians whose careers he aided were Budd Johnson, Gene Ramey, Trummy Young, Cecil Irwin, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. At one point his band featured perhaps the two finest pure voices ever to sing jazz, Sarah Vaughan and Johnny Hartman.
As a leader Hines expected good performance and appearance from his sidemen and, despite his great personal popularity, he was generous in assigning solos and arranging tasks to others. Though a gifted composer as well (“Rosetta,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” and “You Can Depend On Me,” among others), the leader gave his many arrangers wide berth. Their varying styles precluded the development of a recognizable band sound, save for the driving rhythm propelled by Hines.
It is to this lack of identity that some trace the fact that the Hines band was eclipsed by those of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman in the polls. And while he recorded some substantial hits—”Piano Man,” 1939; “Boogie Woogie on the St. Louis Blues,” 1940; “Jelly, Jelly,” 1940; “Stormy Monday Blues,” 1942, the latter two with Eckstine vocals—true popularity proved elusive. Hines tired of bandlead-ing, with its general postwar decline, and returned to an old friend in 1948.
Hines remained with the Louis Armstrong All Stars—featuring trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Barney Bigard, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Sid Catlett—until 1951 when, wearying of the same routines night after night, the pianist left and formed a new small group. Touring with this combo until 1955, Hines then settled down at the Club Hangover in San Francisco for five years and bought a home in nearby Oakland. Another extended club date, interlarded with brief trips to other cities, constituted a quiet, part-time musical existence until 1964, when Hines was invited to play three solo concerts at the Little Theatre in New York. These concerts created great excitement and sparked a re-discovery of the keyboard master.
Of these concerts Whitney Balliett wrote in his American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz, “Not only was his celebrated style intact, but it had taken on a subtlety and unpredictability that continually pleased and startled the audience.... Between numbers, that smile-one of the renowned lamps of show business—made his face look transparent. It was exemplary showmanship—not wrappings and tinsel but the gift itself, freely offered.”
What followed were the rebirth of Hines’s recording career and a series of world tours in concert, usually with reedman Budd Johnson and drummer Oliver Jackson. In 1966 Hines visited the Soviet Union for the U.S. State Department and in 1969 and 1976 performed at the White House. Between 1970 and 1973 Hines recorded ten LPs for Chiaroscuro, beginning with new interpretations of his arresting eight sides for QRS records in 1928, and including 1973’s brilliant live solo concert at New York’s New School for Social Research.
This concert displays all of the mighty Hines pianistic elements: startling technique in both hands; inventiveness that permits new approaches to familiar material; unerring time, often broken with displaced accents and implied or real double-time; indefatigable right-hand tremolos; the trumpet style; security; humor; surprise and joy. In The Great Jazz Pianists, Len Lyons explains, “Like the circus clown who plays at tripping and falling (but deftly lands on his feet every time), Hines would ‘lose’ both rhythm and chord changes within a song only to bring them together at the end of the phrase or chorus.
It is these elements that Hines combined while winding down a60-year playing career. Hines’s earliest records reveal an audacity still evident, while those made 40 years later remain models of complete, modern piano work. Despite the encroachment of arthritis and heart problems, he was still in command of these elements while playing until within a week of his death in Oakland on April 22, 1983.
Though Hines never appreciated the “Fatha” nickname hung on him by a radio announcer at the Grand Terrace, he indeed may be considered a father to all jazz pianists who have followed. Schuller considers him “one of the two supreme pianists of our time.” Of Hines’s playing, writer/arranger/pianist Billy Strayhorn told Metronome: “Technically, it is unorthodox; harmonically, it is intriguing; and actually, it is almost impossible to imitate in its entirety. His devotees are legion, his influence tremendous and his artistry incomparable.”
Stride Right: Johnny Hodges, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Verve, 1966.
“Fatha”: The New Earl Hines Trio, Columbia, 1973.
Earl Hines/Live at the New School, Chiaroscuro Records, 1977.
Giants of Jazz: Earl Hines, Time-Life Records, 1980.
(With others) The Complete Master Jazz Piano Series, Mosaic, 1993.
Here Comes Earl “Fatha” Hines/Spontaneous Explorations, (reissue), Red Baron, 1994.
Earl Hines: South Side Swing, 1934-1935.
Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines “At the Apex Club,” Vol. 1, 1928, Decca Records.
The Louis Armstrong Story, Vol. 3, Columbia.
Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Chilton, John, Who’s Who of Jazz, Time-Life, 1978.
Dance, Stanley, The World of Earl Hines, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.
Feather, Leonard, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz, Bonanza Books, 1965.
Lyons, Len, The Great Jazz Pianists, Da Capo, 1983.
Lyons, Len, and Perlo, Don, Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters, Quill/William Morrow, 1989.
Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1983.
Down Beat, January 1993.
Metronome, c. 1943.
Pulse!, March 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the monograph Giants of Jazz: Earl Hines, by Stanley Dance, Time-Life Records, 1980, and from the liner notes to Earl Hines/Live At the New School, by Hank O’Neal, and Earl Hines: South Side Swing, 1934-1935, by Stanley Dance.
Hines, Earl “Fatha” 1905–1983
Earl “Fatha” Hines 1905–1983
Earl “Fatha” Hines seemed like a forgotten pianist from an earlier era when he made his entrance at the Little Theatre in New York City in the winter of 1964. “The manner in which the public deals with its most gifted artists is, to understate it, erratic,” noted Leonard Feather in The Pleasures of Jazz. Until that appearance, Hines’s importance to jazz had largely been relegated to his revolutionary solo work from 1928, and to his seminal recordings with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives the same year. The 59-year-old pianist, however, had no intention of re-treading old ground. Instead, he performed a challenging solo concert at the Little Theatre for a small crowd of about 30 people. “He had never before attempted a full-length solo recital,” wrote Whitney Balliett in American Musicians. Balliett added that it was “a feat that few jazz pianists, of whatever bent, have carried off.”
Hines opened his recital by telling the audience that he would proceed as though he was playing casually for a few friends in his living room. “Not only was his celebrated style intact,” noted Balliett, “but it had taken on a subtlety and unpredictability that continually pleased and startled the audience.” When the evening was over, Hines had reminded critics of his historical contributions in the jazz arena and had again emerged as a major stylist on the contemporary jazz scene. “The New York critics were amazed by Hines’s continuing creativity and vitality,” wrote Scott Yanow in All Music Guide to Jazz, “and he had a major comeback that lasted through the rest of his career.”
Earl Kenneth Hines was born into a musical family in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, an outlying suburb of Pittsburgh, on December 28, 1905. His father worked as a foreman at the local coal docks and played cornet with the Eureka Brass Band, a group that performed at picnics and dances. His mother, a housewife, played organ and gave him his first piano lessons. Hines’s sister, Nancy, also played organ, and his brother, Boots, played piano; his aunt sang light opera and his uncle played a variety of brass instruments. At age nine Hines started taking piano lessons from Emma Young, a teacher in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, but he soon outgrew his teacher. He then studied classical technique under Von Holz, a teacher who introduced him to exercise books, and began to dream of becoming a concert pianist.
Born Earl Kenneth Hines on December 28, 1905, in Duquesne, PA; died on April 22, 1983, in Oakland, CA; son of Joseph (a foreman and musician) and Mary (an organist) Hines.
Career: Joined Lois Deppe, 1922, and participated in his first recording session, 1923; moved to Chicago, 1924; joined Zutty Singleton and Louis Armstrong at the Sunset Café, mid-1920s; joined Jimmy Noone’s band, 1927; recorded with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives, 1928; led band at the Grand Terrace in Chicago, 1928-40; led independent band, 1941-48; joined the Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, 1948-51; toured with small combo, early 1950s; served as resident musician at Club Hangover in San Francisco, 1950s and early 1960s; re-discovered at Little Theatre concerts in New York City, 1964; toured with State Department, 1966; recorded a series of well-received albums during 1970s, including West Side Story (1974) and The Father of Modern Jazz Piano (1977).
Awards: Esquire Silver Award, 1944; inducted into Jazz Hall of Fame, 1965.
In his teens Hines moved to Pittsburgh, where he attended Schenley High School and continued to study music. His musical direction changed abruptly when family members took Hines to the Liederhouse, a club featuring jazz, and he fell in love with the rhythm-filled music. “Pittsburgh was a wide-open town,” he told Balliett, “and there wasn’t such a ban then on children going into clubs.” After discovering the burgeoning jazz scene on Wylie Street, he abandoned his plans to play classical music and immersed himself in jazz. At age 15 he formed a group with a violinist and drummer, and soon the trio was performing at high school functions, nightclubs, and church socials. Because Hines worked many late-night engagements, he decided to leave school when he was 16.
In 1922 Hines went to work with singer/band leader Lois B. Deppe at the Liederhouse, where he earned $15 a week. The band made forays into West Virginia, Ohio, and New York City, and in 1923 the young pianist traveled to Richmond, Indiana, where he attended his first recording session. In 1924 Hines led his own band for a short time and then, following the advice of pianist Eubie Blake, he moved to Chicago. In Chicago he met a cadre of first-class musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Benny Goodman, who were beginning to re-write the rules of jazz. In 1927 he joined with Armstrong and Zutty Singleton, and the trio performed a regular gig at the Café Sunset, an establishment that catered to gangsters and other high-dollar rollers. When the club temporarily closed in 1927, the band broke up and Hines joined clarinetist Jimmy Noone’s band at the Apex Club. Armstrong, however, would soon call again, and together the old friends would make jazz history.
In 1928 Hines rejoined Armstrong for a series of legendary recordings, and the young pianist was transformed from a local talent with potential into a jazz innovator to be emulated. Hines played with drummer Singleton, banjoist Mancy Cara, trombonist Fred Robinson, and clarinetist Jimmy Strong, and the group broke new ground, opening up a range of new musical possibilities for jazz players. Hines, critics noted, was Armstrong’s match, and the two traded solos and ideas, taking one another to new heights. “No one had ever played the piano like that,” noted Balliett. “He fashioned complex, irregular single-note patterns in the right hand, octave chords with brief tremolos that suggested a vibrato, stark single notes, and big flatted chords.” The same year, Hines recorded as a soloist. Terry Teachout wrote in Commentary, “Simultaneously with the Armstrong Hot Fives, Earl Hines recorded a series of piano solos in which his electrifying playing is given still freer rein.”
On December 28, 1928, Hines’s birthday, he began leading his own big band at the Grand Terrace Ballroom, a luxurious Chicago nightspot partly owned by Al Capone. “The Grand Terrace was the Cotton Club of Chicago,” Hines told Balliett, “and we were a show band as much as a dance band and a jazz band.” Hines and his orchestra worked seven days a week, performing three shows a night on weekdays and four shows on Saturdays. A national broadcast popularized the band outside Chicago, and the group spent two to three months of each year touring. The band also became one of the first African-American groups to travel widely in the South during the 1930s.
Hines earned his nickname during this period. After he had given a radio announcer a “fatherly” lecture about his immoderate drinking, the announcer began introducing the pianist as “Father” Hines. The Grand Terrace band recorded frequently, and throughout the 1930s scored a number of hits, including “G.T. Stomp,” “Harlem Laments,” and “You Can Depend on Me.” Hines remained at the Grand Terrace for 11 years and then, believing he was underpaid, left with his band in 1940.
Hines held his band together for the next eight years, and they continued to perform such popular hits as “Jelly Jelly,” “Boogie-Woogie on the St. Louis Blues,” and “Stormy Monday Blues.” In 1944 he received Esquire Magazine’s Silver Award. In 1946 Hines suffered an injury in an automobile accident that caused him to curtail his touring; by 1948, due to a decline in the popularity of big bands, he broke up the 24-member group. Later in 1948 Hines reverted to side-man status and rejoined his old friend Armstrong. Louis Armstrong’s All Stars toured Europe in 1948-49, and attended the 1948 jazz festival at Nice, France. In 1951 Hines left Armstrong to work in a number of smaller settings.
In September of 1955, Hines settled into a regular job at the Hangover Club in San Francisco, one of the last bastions for more traditional forms of jazz. Although he toured annually, traveling to Canada, England, and the European continent, the Hangover Club was his mainstay during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1963 Hines opened his own club in Oakland, but the venture was short-lived. In 1964 he abandoned his low profile by playing a successful series of dates at the Little Theatre in New York, and the pianist was once more in great demand. In 1966 Hines joined the State Department’s jazz combo and traveled to Russia as a goodwill ambassador. During the 1970s he continued to tour the United States and the world with his quartet, and recorded prolifically during this period, turning out classics like Tour De Force and Quintessential Continued with natural ease. And as this success continued, wrote Yanow, “Hines seemed to still be getting more daring in his playing.”
Although Hines disliked his nickname, critics have pointed out that it is an appropriate one: he is indeed the father of modern jazz piano. Before him, noted Balliett, “Most jazz pianists were either blues performers or stride pianists. Hines filled the space between these approaches with an almost hornlike style.” Today jazz aficionados accept the piano as a mainstay of jazz, thanks to Hines’s seminal work with Armstrong and his work as a soloist in 1928. Unlike some early jazz performers, he continued to embrace new music over his 50-year career, and his personal style continued to grow in complexity. “Even at that late stage of his career,” wrote Yanow, “Hines constantly took chances and came up with surprising and consistently fresh ideas.” Despite heart problems and arthritis, Hines performed until a week before his death in Oakland, California, on April 22, 1983.
(With Louis Armstrong) The Louis Armstrong Collection, Vol. 4: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, Columbia, 1928.
Earl Hines, Raretone, 1929.
Deep Forest, Hep, 1932.
Piano Men, Bluebird, 1939.
Another Monday Date, Prestige, 1955.
Legendary Little Theatre Concert, Muse, 1964.
Tour de Force, Black Lion, 1972.
Quintessential Continued, Chiaroscuro, 1973.
Live at the New School, Chiaroscuro, 1973.
Earl Hines Plays Cole Porter, New World, 1974.
The Father of Modern Jazz Piano, M.F. Productions, 1977.
Balliett, Whitney, American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz, Oxford University, 1986, pp. 80, 83, 85, 94.
Erlewine, Michael, editor, All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman, 1998, pp. 541, 542.
Feather, Leonard, The Pleasures of Jazz, Horizon, 1976, p. 74.
Commentary Magazine, November 1999.
“Earl Hines,” All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (March 15, 2003).
“Earl Hines,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (May 5, 2003).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.