Earl Hines performs for Private Charles Carpenter, songwriter and manager of the Hines orchestra, at Camp Lee during World War II
|Born||December 28, 1903
|Died||April 23, 1983 (aged 79)
|Genres||Swing, Big band, solo piano|
Earl Hines was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Duquesne, Pennsylvania. His father was a cornetist and leader of Pittsburgh's Eureka Brass Band, his stepmother a church organist. Hines at first intended to follow his father's example and play cornet but "blowing" hurt him behind the ears — while the piano didn't. He took classical piano lessons and played organ in his local Baptist church but also developed an ear for popular show tunes and was able to remember and play songs he heard in theaters. Hines claimed that he was playing piano around Pittsburgh "before the word 'jazz' was even invented".
At the age of 17, Hines moved away from home to take a job playing with Lois Deppe & his Serenaders in the "Liederhaus", a Pittsburgh nightclub, for 2 meals a day and $15 a week. Deppe was a well-known baritone who sang both classical and popular numbers. Deppe used the young Hines as his accompanist for both and took Hines on his concert-trips to New York. Hines' first recordings were with this band — four sides recorded with Gennett Records in 1923. Only two of these were issued, and only one, a Hines composition, "Congaine", "a keen snappy foxtrot", featured any solo work by Hines. Hines entered the studio again with Deppe a month later, recording spirituals and popular songs. In 1925 Hines moved to Chicago, Illinois, then the world's "jazz" capital, home (at the time) to Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. He played piano with Carroll Dickerson's band (including a nationwide tour on the Pantages circuit) and, in Chicago's Musicians' Union, Earl Hines met Louis Armstrong. Armstrong and Hines became good friends and got jobs playing together in Dickerson's band at the Sunset Cafe. In 1927 this became Louis Armstrong's band under the musical direction of Hines. 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" - and indeed they could. That year Armstrong revamped his Okeh Records recording 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, most famously their 1928 trumpet and piano duet "Weatherbird". From The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:
... 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" & "Muggles".
Hines recorded 14 solos that same year, 1928. (57 Varieties referred to his native Pittsburgh's H. J. Heinz Company's slogan, My Monday Date was an inside joke between Hines, Armstrong, and Armstrong's wife. Hines was to re-explore these solo recordings 45 years later: see discography). After the Sunset Club closed, Armstrong and drummer Zutty Singleton ended up at Chicago's newly opened Savoy Ballroom while Hines was in New York, and when he returned to Chicago, Hines ended up in Jimmie Noone's band at the Apex Club.
In 1928 (and on his 25th birthday) the always-immaculate Hines began leading his own 'big band', the pinnacle of jazz ambition at the time. For 11 years his was "The Band" in The Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago. The Grand Terrace was controlled by Al Capone — Hines was Capone's "Mr Piano Man".
The Earl Hines Orchestra (or 'Organization' as Hines liked it to be known - it had up to 28 members) recorded for Victor in 1929, for Brunswick from 1932–1934, for Decca from 1934–1935, for Vocalion from 1937–1938 and for Bluebird from 1939 until the industry-wide recording ban of 1942-1945. (A number of the Brunswick sides were very advanced, sophisticated jazz for their time. Hines relayed on band member arrangers including Cecil Irwin, Jimmy Mundy, Louis Taylor, Lawrence Dixon and Quinn Wilson, as well outside arrangers like Henry Woodip. Four of the last Brunswick sides (from 1934) were held back and issued as Vocalion's in late 1936.
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 was a young 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 notable 'student' was Art Tatum from Toledo, Ohio, 6 years younger than Hines and now regarded by some as the greatest pianist jazz has so far produced. In The Grand Terrace, the Hines band did three shows a night, four shows every Saturday and sometimes did Sundays. All his career Hines liked to promote and accompany singers most notably, in the Grand Terrace days, Billy Eckstine:
Each summer, the whole band toured for three months, including through the South. "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." 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), and it was here with Hines that Charlie Parker got his first professional job 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 Grand Terrace stage in his attempts to do so. It was during the 1940s (especially during the 1942–1945 recording ban) that members of the Hines' band's late-night jam-sessions laid the seeds for the upcoming 'revolution' in jazz - Bebop.
Hines led his big band until 1948, taking time out to front the Duke Ellington orchestra in 1944 while Duke was ill...but the big-band era was over. (Thirty years later, Hines's 20 solo "transformative versions" of his "Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington" recorded in the 1970s were described by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times as "as good an example of the jazz process as anything out there".)
At the start of 1949 Hines rejoined Armstrong (rather, he now came to feel, as a "sideman") in Armstrong's "small band", the "All Stars" (most of whom had been famous big-band leaders), and stayed, not entirely happily, through 1951. Next, as leader again, he took his own small combos around the States and Europe but, at the start of the jazz-lean 1960s and old enough now to retire and take up bowling, Hines settled "home" in Oakland, California, opened a tobacconist's, and came close to giving up the profession.
Then, in 1964, thanks to Stanley Dance, his 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 - always thinking of himself as "just a band pianist" - had ever given. These 'recitals' caused a sensation. "What is there left to hear after you've heard Earl Hines?", asked the New York Times. 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 were to do so again five further times). Jazz Journal awarded his LP's 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 he died twenty years later Hines recorded endlessly both solo and with jazz notables like Cat Anderson, Harold Ashby, Barney Bigard, Lawrence Brown, Jaki Byard (they recorded 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, Dizzie Gillespie, Paul Gonsalves, Stephane Grappelli, Sonny Greer, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Helen Humes, Budd Johnson, Jonah Jones, Gene Krupa, Ellis Larkins, Marian McPartland (duets in 1970), 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, Teresa Brewer, Richard Davis, Elvin Jones, Etta Jones, The Inkspots, Peggy Lee, Helen Merrill, Charles Mingus, Vi Redd, Dinah Washington—and "Ditty Wah Ditty" with Ry Cooder. But his most acclaimed recordings of this period were 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. Hines' sudden changes in dynamics, tempo, and texture are dramatic but not melodramatic; the ham lurking in the middle distance never gets any closer. And Hines is a perfervid pianist; he gives the impression that he has shut himself up completely within his instrument, that he is issuing chords and runs and glisses not merely through its keyboard and hammers and strings but directly from its soul.
Solo tributes to Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Cole Porter were all put on record in the 1970s, sometimes on the 1904 12-legged Steinway (unique and famously ornate) given to him in 1969 by Scott Newhall, managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1974, so 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 approximately 90 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 with a famously-unplanned 'solo' LP behind him including discussion and coffee time - and ideally a brandy or two. Retakes were almost unheard of except when Hines wanted to try a tune again in some, often completely, "other way". Pianist Lennie Tristano said, "Earl Hines is the ONLY one of us capable of creating real jazz and real swing when playing all alone." To Horace Silver, "He has a completely unique style. No one can get that sound, no other pianist". To Count Basie, Hines was "The greatest piano player in the world". In 1968 Hines toured South America, again toured Europe (especially France) and now added Asia, Australia, Japan and the Soviet Union to his list of State Department–funded destinations. (During his 6-week Soviet Union tour, the 10,000-seater Kiev Sports Palace was sold out. As a result, the Kremlin cancelled his Moscow and Leningrad concerts ("Reds Change Hines Tour") as being "too culturally dangerous".)
Arguably still playing as well as he ever had, Hines displayed, too, endearing quirks (not to say grunts of which Glenn Gould would have surely been proud) in these performances. Sometimes he sang as he played, especially his own "They Didn't Believe I Could Do It—Neither Did I". In 1975 Hines made an hour-long "solo" film for British TV out-of-hours in Blues Alley, a Washington nightclub: the "New York Herald Tribune" described it as "The greatest jazz film ever made". In that 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 in The White House (twice) and played solo for The Pope—and played (and sang) his last show at Kimball's in San Francisco a few days before he died in Oakland, quite likely somewhat older than he had always maintained. As he had wished, his Steinway had a very much "All Star" Christie's auction 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".
On his tombstone is the inscription: "piano man".
Up until 1948 - and therefore including Big Band era:
After 1948 - and therefore after Big Band era: