There is no more challenging role in music than that of the solo performer. To succeed in this field of creative endeavour requires a high level of confidence, prodigious technical expertise and, where jazz is concerned, a rare continuity of inspiratio
Earl Hines had all of these qualities, and more. As in the case of the other jazz masters, when you listen to the extemporisations of “Fatha” Hines, you are not simply hearing music of a most elevated order – you are listening to a virtuoso who shaped the course of jazz history, a man who single-handedly (a highly inappropri- ate metaphor in one sense) changed the role of the piano in jazz and brought his unique influence to bear on a multitude of musicians.
When Stanley Dance produced these sides in New York, Hines was in his 69th year and had more than half a century of music—making behind him. He was in ebullient form, attacking the music with all the weapons in his pianistic armoury. As the basis for his free-ranging, sometimes quixotic, improvisations, he chose six songs whose music was composed by Harold Arlen, a most gifted writer who was responsible for some of the more sophisticated popular songs of the thirties and forties.But, in truth, the real composer here is Hines himself. Where Teddy Wilson or a Tommy Flanagan would play songs like this and tailor their improvisations accord- ing to the cloth of the original composition, Hines takes up the Arlen jacket, turns it inside out, and gives it a brilliantly patterned lining, brass buttons, a velvet collar, gold braid and a florid buttonhole.