Pittsburgh Jazz Legends 1: Earl "Fatha" Hines

Tuesday, 17 April 2012 05:19 AM Written by 

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, a theme we're going to revisit often through the remainder of April, both through shout-outs to the many jazz geniuses Pittsburgh's given the world, but also looking at other acts worthy of recognition.  Today: Duquesne's own Earl "Fatha" Hines.

The earliest jazz great to emerge from Pittsburgh and gain worldwide recognition, Earl Kenneth Hines (born 1903) is one of the linchpins of jazz piano as we know it, one whose impact and legacy remain to this day, nearly 30 years after he died in 1983.  Both his parents played music.  He studied classical piano early in life but was such a quick study he was playing organ at church before he began playing jazz in his teens.

Working in a band led by local musician-singer Lois Deppe' was just the start.  He made his first appearance on record with Deppe' in 1923. A 1925 move to Chicago connected him with the hottest young musician of the fledgling jazz genre: Louis Armstrong.  Hines became a vital part of Armstrong's famous recording bands known as the Hot Five and Hot Six.

Hines was part of Armstrong's most important recording (no, not "What A Wonderful World") but "West End Blues" in 1928, still considered a seminal jazz recording. Earl's exquisite solo is at 2:00

1928 was also the year Hines formed his own orchestra and during the Swing Era, became a Chicago institution, playing at the Grand Terrace Ballroom (under Al Capone's sway).   This is a 1934 Hines Orchestra recording of "Sweet Georgia Brown."

Hines later wrote an instrumental, "Rosetta," that became (and remains) a pop and jazz standard both with and without lyrics.  This is Hines's 1939 solo piano version.  He had the nickname of "Fatha" by then.

Through the decade Hines's was viewed as not only a great bandleader but a fountainhead of jazz piano, with countless disciples including Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, Lennie Tristano and even western swing players like Bob Wills pianist Al Stricklin and Fred "Papa" Calhoun.

Starting in the early 40's, Hines's orchestra became an incubator for bebop, the emerging style of jazz evolving from swing. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were both Hines sidemen as was Pittsburgher Billy Eckstine, who made his first real splash as a singer on "Jelly Jelly Blues." Eckstine would later depart the band to form his own orchestra, the first big band to actively embrace and perform bebop, normally played by smaller bands. More on that when we get to Eckstine's entry.

After World War II Hines reunited with Louis Armstrong as a featured member of Armstrong's popular band the All-Stars. In the 50's, however interest in Hines's music began to wane until he was rediscovered in the mid 1960's and suddenly found himself, playing in small groups, in demand in the US and overseas, revered as a master pianist.  Here, from a 1965 Berlin concert, he plays "Memories Of  You."

"Save It Pretty Mama" came from later in his revived career.  And no, he wasn't blind.  He sometimes wore sunglasses due to impaired vision, after a 1946 automobile accident.

Living in the San Francisco area, he toured and recorded until just days before he died in 1983.  The city's jazz lineage certainly includes Benson, Staton, Marmarosa, Eldridge, Turrentine, Blakey, Garner, Brown, Eckstine and the rest. Fatha kicked off those generations of genius.


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