Earl Hines

"Earl Hines was the first major jazz pianist to utilize both of his hands in adventurous flights without missing a beat." - Scott Yanow

© William P. Gottlieb Library of Congress

Earl Hines

By Scott Yanow
Earl Hines was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. His solos were consistently exciting (whether from 1928 or 1968) and he had an innovative approach of his own from virtually the start of his career. In the 1920s most jazz pianists were trying to emulate the stride style of James P. Johnson, keeping time with their left hand by striding back and forth between bass notes and chords while their right played melodic variations.

Earl Hines was the first major pianist to break up the striding, suspending time during wild breaks that utilized both of his hands in adventurous flights while always coming back without missing a beat. In addition, his right hand often played octaves so as to be heard clearly over ensembles (even a big band) in what was dubbed “trumpet style.” With his dazzling technique and constant delight at playing the unpredictable even on familiar songs, Earl Hines was always a joy to hear.

Earl Hines & His Orchestra
Harlem Lament

Charlie Allen, George Dixon (tp), Walter Fuller (tp, vcl), Billy Franklin (tb), Trummy Young (tb), Louis Taylor (tb, arr), Omer Simeon (as, bari), Darnell Howard (cl, as, vln), Cecil Irwin, Jimmy Mundy (ts, arr), Earl Hines (p), Lawrence Dixon (g, arr), Quinn Wilson (b, tu, arr), Wallace Bishop (d), Valaida Snow (vcl) – October 27, 1933

By Brian Priestly
Gunther Schuller’s mighty tome has 29 pages on the virtues of Earl Hines’ piano and his band, of which four are devoted to making an exemplary case for Harlem Lament. Composed and arranged by bassist Wilson, it’s the longest feature yet for the pianist within a band number, and has him backing the muted trumpet melody (probably by Dixon not Allen) as well as taking a 32-bar solo, of which bars 15-30 inclusive are transcribed by Schuller.

It’s worth quoting his summary of the virtues of a representative Earl Hines solo:
1) an inventive restatement or re-composition of the theme, usually at a good trot.
2) building the solo towards a climactic high-point, generally in or near the end of the bridge and overlapping into the last eight bars.
3) lots of right-hand octaves and tremolos, the latter to simulate the vibrato on a “horn”, adding expressive intensity to a longer piano note.
4) dialogue exchanges between both hands.
5) vertiginous careening runs somewhere in the solo.
6) at solo’s end a simplification of continuity to ease things back into the band ensemble’s next chorus.

Earl Hines was born Dec. 28, 1903 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania and grew up in Pittsburgh. His father played trumpet, his stepmother was an organist, and a brother also played piano. Earl Hines started out on cornet but switched to piano when he was nine.

If Earl Hines had only recorded in 1928, he would still be considered an important part of jazz history. He spent much of the year as a member of clarinetist Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, recording 14 selections that offered him a generous amount of solo space.

With Louis Armstrong’s Savoy Ballroom Five, Earl Hines was the co-star, constantly challenging and inspiring the trumpeter on such numbers as his song “A Monday Date,” “Fireworks,” the superb “West End Blues,” “Sugar Foot Strut,” the original version of “Basin Street Blues,” the first jazz recording of “St. James Infirmary,” and their stunning trumpet-piano duet showcase “Weatherbird.”

Earl Hines led an orchestra for the next 19 years. Because it was based in Chicago through 1940 rather than New York, his big band tended to be underrated, but it could hold its own with the finest orchestras of the era.

Most big bands were compelled to record some commercial material (usually vocal numbers) that has not dated well. However in Earl Hines’ case, nearly every selection can serve as an example of high-quality swing. His orchestra was one of the finest around in 1929, pointing the way towards the future of big band swing while including plenty of hot solos including from the leader.

Earl Hines’ orchestras of 1932-42 at various times included such key jazz musicians as trumpeter-singer Walter Fuller, trumpeter Ray Nance (before he joined Duke Ellington), trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist-altoist Omer Simeon, clarinetist Darnell Howard, tenor-saxophonist Budd Johnson, arranger and tenor-saxophonist Jimmy Mundy, and singers Herb Jeffries and Billy Eckstine.

Earl Hines & His Orchestra
Take It Easy

Charlie Allen, George Dixon (tp), Walter Fuller (tp, vcl), Billy Franklin (tb), Trummy Young (tb), Louis Taylor (tb, arr), Omer Simeon (as, bari), Darnell Howard (cl, as, vln), Cecil Irwin, Jimmy Mundy (ts, arr), Earl Hines (p), Lawrence Dixon (g, arr), Quinn Wilson (b, tu, arr), Wallace Bishop (d), Valaida Snow (vcl) – October 27, 1933

By Brian Priestly
Jimmy Mundy’s Take It Easy sounds more “Swing Era” than ever and focuses on the band’s impressive ensemble work. Sporting four saxophones since the arrival of Mundy, Earl Hines then added a third trombone, following the example of Don Redman and Duke Ellington. He chose Trummy Young from the same Washington group that had yielded Mundy and, while there’s some confusion over exactly when he joined (Young himself said 1933), there appear to be three trombones on this session. The fuller texture puts the brief solos of Irwin, Howard (clarinet) and Simeon (alto) somewhat in the shade, before the decrescendo of a false ending leads to a high-note trumpet ride-out by Fuller.

In 1943, Earl Hines led what is considered the first bebop big band. At Billy Eckstine’s urging, he hired trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker (on tenor rather than alto), and singer Sarah Vaughan (who also played second piano in the band). However due to the Musicians Union recording strike, no recordings or even radio broadcasts exist of this intriguing and historic orchestra, so one can only speculate what it sounded like. By the time Earl Hines was able to record again, Eckstine had formed his own big band and had taken Gillespie, Parker and Vaughan with him.

During the swing era, due to his many recordings and nightly broadcasts, Earl Hines became a major influence on quite a few talented young jazz artists including Nat King Cole, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Teddy Wilson, and even Art Tatum. His successor with Jimmie Noone, pianist Zinky Cohn, probably came the closest to copying Earl Hines’ style. But while these pianists could emulate his use of octaves, few (other than Cohn) attempted to equal his time-defying breaks. With his big band, Earl Hines kept those breaks to a minimum since he had a full rhythm section, but on his solo piano recordings, he was often heard at his most daring.

In mid-1951 Earl Hines went back on his own and entered a 13-year period where, despite playing very well, he was largely ignored by the modern jazz press. At first he led a short-lived sextet that included trumpeter Jonah Jones and both Helen Merrill and Etta Jones on vocals. In 1954 Earl Hines had a different sextet with trumpeter Gene Redd, trombonist Dickie Wells and tenor-saxophonist Morris Lane that is featured on broadcasts from San Francisco’s Club Hangover that have been released on a Storyville CD as being by the Esquire All Stars.

Then later that year, Earl Hines settled in at the Club Hangover as the leader of a high-powered and rather energetic Dixieland group comprised of cornetist Muggsy Spanier, trombonist Jimmy Archey, clarinetist Darnell Howard (who had been with Earl Hines’ big band a decade before), bassist Pops Foster, and drummer Earl Watkins. At first the pianist was not sure what to think of the group since he was not that familiar with the repertoire and thought of the music as being quite old-fashioned, but he grew to like it and he found his own place in the group. While he was out of the limelight as far as the modern jazz world was concerned, Earl Hines was featured on a series of enjoyable broadcasts with the group over the next few years of which Storyville’s Chicago Dates and At Club Hangover are fine examples.

Earl Hines also had occasional opportunities to record away from the group including the trio set Plays Fats Waller and an outstanding solo session; both are reissued on Another Monday Date. The pianist toured England and France with Jack Teagarden in 1957, made guest appearances on records led by Benny Carter and Barbara Dane, and was with Jimmy Witherspoon during a famous set at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival. But by 1964, the 61-year old Earl Hines was thinking about retiring.

Then everything changed for Earl Hines. The veteran jazz journalist Stanley Dance persuaded him to perform at the Little Theater on Mar. 7, 1964.

It was Earl Hines’ first New York appearance in some time and many East Coast critics were in the audience. They were amazed to find that the pianist, who they had largely forgotten about or written off, was in dazzling form. Performing piano solos, in a trio with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Oliver Johnson, and in a quartet with Budd Johnson, Earl Hines opened up their eyes and ears.

The Earl Hines Trio
Grand Reunion
Portraits of Fats Waller

From that point on his life would become a whirlwind of activity with constant performances, tours and recordings that kept him very busy during his last 19 years. Find the Muse set (which had been issued earlier by Focus and Deluxe) and hear how Earl Hines impressed the critics.

There are dozens of worthy Earl Hines recordings from his final “comeback” period. The two-Lp set Spontaneous Explorations has a solo session (his first since 1956) that was made the same day of the Little Theatre concert plus a trio album from 1966 that found Earl Hines playing with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Elvin Jones and undoubtedly impressing the two younger modernists.

Earl Hines was always at his best on his unaccompanied solo piano albums and that certainly includes 1965’s Blues In Thirds, Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington (a two-CD set), Tour De Force, Tour De Force Encore, Live At The New School (highlighted by a near-miraculous version of “I’ve Got The World On A String”), and Solo Piano (which is also a twofer). The latter reissues three very good records from 1971 of Earl Hines playing full-length sets of the music of W.C. Handy, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong-associated songs.

Earl Hines, who led no less than 16 albums in 1974, was very prolific through 1978 when he started to slow down, just recording one final album apiece in 1979 and 1981. Earl Hines passed away on Apr. 22, 1983 at the age of 79 after a very full life and a large discography overflowing with timeless gems.

Earl Hines

Selected Jazz Albums

By Scott Yanow

Earl Hines And His Esquire All Stars (Storyville)

Chicago Dates (Storyville)

At Club Hangover 1955 (Storyville)

Another Monday Date (Prestige)

During the swing era, due to his many recordings and nightly broadcasts, Earl Hines became a major influence on quite a few talented young pianists including Nat King Cole, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Teddy Wilson, and even Art Tatum. His successor with Jimmie Noone, pianist Zinky Cohn, probably came the closest to copying Hines’ style. But while these pianists could emulate his use of octaves, few (other than Cohn) attempted to equal his time-defying breaks. With his big band, Hines kept those breaks to a minimum since he had a full rhythm section, but on his solo piano recordings, he was often heard at his most daring.

Earl Hines continued leading big bands until 1948 when it had become obvious that leading such a large ensemble was a money-losing proposition. For the first time since 1928, he became a sideman as a member of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, touring with his old friend for three years and playing next to Jack Teagarden and Barney Bigard. However it was not a happy period for Hines, who was not used to being in a minor role and just being featured on a few numbers (including invariably “Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues”) every night. He only led three recording dates of his own during the period.

In mid-1951 Hines went back on his own and entered a 13-year period where, despite playing very well, he was largely ignored by the modern jazz press. At first he led a short-lived sextet that included trumpeter Jonah Jones and both Helen Merrill and Etta Jones on vocals. In 1954 he had a different sextet with trumpeter Gene Redd, trombonist Dickie Wells and tenor-saxophonist Morris Lane that is featured on broadcasts from San Francisco’s Club Hangover that have been released on a Storyville CD as being by the Esquire All Stars.

Then later that year, he settled in at the Club Hangover as the leader of a high-powered and rather energetic Dixieland group comprised of cornetist Muggsy Spanier, trombonist Jimmy Archey, clarinetist Darnell Howard (who had been with Hines’ big band a decade before), bassist Pops Foster, and drummer Earl Watkins. At first the pianist was not sure what to think of the group since he was not that familiar with the repertoire and thought of the music as being quite old-fashioned, but he grew to like it and he found his own place in the group. While he was out of the limelight as far as the modern jazz world was concerned, Hines was featured on a series of enjoyable broadcasts with the group over the next few years of which Storyville’s Chicago Dates and At Club Hangover (with Marty Marsala on trumpet) are fine examples.

Hines also had occasional opportunities to record away from the group including the trio set Plays Fats Waller and an outstanding solo session; both are reissued on Another Monday Date. The pianist toured England and France with Jack Teagarden in 1957, made guest appearances on records led by Benny Carter and Barbara Dane, and was with Jimmy Witherspoon during a famous set at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival. But by 1964, the 61-year old Hines was thinking about retiring.

The Legendary Little Theatre Concert Of 1964, Vol. 1 & 2 (Muse)
Spontaneous Explorations (Focus)
Grand Reunion (Verve)
Blues In Thirds (Black Lion)
An Evening With Earl Hines (Chiaroscuro)
Hot Sonatas (Chiaroscuro)
Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington (New World)
Tour De Force (Black Lion)
Tour De Force Encore (Black Lion)
Live At The New School (Chiaroscuro)
Solo Piano (Solo Art):

Then everything changed for Earl Hines. The veteran jazz journalist Stanley Dance persuaded him to perform at the Little Theatre on Mar. 7, 1964. It was Hines’ first New York appearance in some time and many East Coast critics were in the audience. They were amazed to find that the pianist, who they had largely forgotten about or written off, was in dazzling form. Performing piano solos, in a trio with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Oliver Johnson, and in a quartet with Budd Johnson, Hines opened up their eyes and ears. From that point on his life would become a whirlwind of activity with constant performances, tours and recordings that kept him very busy during his last 19 years. Find the Muse set (which had been issued earlier by Focus and Deluxe) and hear what impressed the critics.

There are dozens of worthy Hines recordings from his final “comeback” period. The two-Lp set Spontaneous Explorations has a solo session (his first since 1956) that was made the same day of the Little Theatre concert plus a trio album from 1966 that found Hines playing with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Elvin Jones and undoubtedly impressing the two younger modernists.

Grant Reunion from 1965 has Hines and his trio live at the Village Vanguard being joined on some numbers by Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge. Hines steals the show with his six-song “Portraits Of Fats Waller.”

Earl Hines spent his later years often touring with a quartet that included Marva Josie on vocals. The two-CD set An Evening With Earl Hines from 1972, which includes Josie and guitarist Tiny Grimes, gives one a strong example of what his live appearances were like

A special treat from 1975 is Hot Sonatas, a set of duets with violinist Joe Venuti. Although they had both been active for 50 years, Hines and Venuti had never recorded together before. The results are filled with exciting and adventurous moments as the two veteran greats constantly challenge and inspire each other.

Earl Hines was always at his best on his unaccompanied solo piano albums and that certainly includes 1965’s Blues In Thirds, Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington (a two-CD set), Tour De Force, Tour De Force Encore, Live At The New School (highlighted by a near-miraculous version of “I’ve Got The World On A String”), and Solo Piano (which is also a twofer). The latter reissues three very good records from 1971 of Hines playing full-length sets of the music of W.C. Handy, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong-associated songs.

Earl Hines, who led no less than 16 albums in 1974, was very prolific through 1978 when he started to slow down, just recording one final album apiece in 1979 and 1981. He passed away on Apr. 22, 1983 at the age of 79 after a very full life and a large discography overflowing with timeless gems.

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