If you want to understand the central role played by Westsylvania musicians in developing jazz, look no further than Earl “Fatha” Hines. Al Capone called him “Mr. Piano Man.” Dizzy Gillespie called him “a master.” Count Basie called him “the greatest piano player in the world.”
110 years (and four days) ago—December 28, 1903—Earl Hines was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, a steel town on the Monongahela, south of Pittsburgh. By the age of 17, he was playing in Pittsburgh’s nightclubs. By 21, he had moved to Chicago and joined forces with Louis Armstrong. As part of Armstrong’s Hot Five, he recorded classics like “West End Blues” and “Weather Bird,” a duet with Armstrong:
But Hines wasn’t to remain a sideman long. The big band he founded in 1928 was popular throughout the 1930s. In the 1940s, Hines was among the first to hire bebop musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Unfortunately, due to a wartime recording ban, no recordings of Gillespie or Parker with Hines were made. But lucky for us, Hines had a late-career comeback as a solo pianist, making over 100 LPs from the 1960s until his death in 1983.
From early in that comeback, here’s a video of Hines playing “Memories of You” in Germany, 1965. His technique is flawless. But for all the technical, “tricky” stuff Hines packs into this performance, he never loses a sense of the song or of melody—giving these 4 minutes a cinematic sweep I just love:
P.S. It’s January 1, and we have 15 days to bring our Kickstarter campaign to a successful close. Please consider becoming a backer over on Kickstarter. We’ve also got our big fundraiser coming up at the Artists Hand Gallery. We’d love to see you there! Looking for more ways to support the festival? Take a look at Six Ways You Can Help Make the Westsylvania Jazz & Blues Festival a Reality