One of the greatest keyboard innovators in jazz, Earl Kenneth “Fatha” Hines was almost solely responsible for the evolution of jazz piano from the ragtime and stride era to the modern, trumpet-style, single note idiom. Although Hines’s bravura playing embraced all pianistic styles and devices, his principal claim to jazz celebrity was that he separated the functions of the right and left hands and really developed the full jazz resources of the piano.
The son of a trumpet player in the famous Eureka Brass Band, Hines was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania on December 28, 1905. He studied piano for six years in Pittsburgh (the native city of such great keyboard exponents as Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa, Horace Parlan and Mary Lou Williams) and dev eloped his abundant technique by diligent practice of Czerny exercises. In the late 1920s Hines worked with Jimmie Noone at the Apex Club and was made musical director of Carroll Dickerson’s band. In 1928 he recorded a score of sides with the Louis Armstrong Hot Five and made the celebrated Weatherbird duo session with Satchmo which was to become one of the classic jazz recordings of all time.
Hines drew a good deal of his inspiration from Armstrong. In 1928 Hines formed his own big band and, in December of that year, opened at the Grand Terrace in Chicago. Hines led his big band for two decades and achieved wide acclaim for his brilliant, adventurous, two handed piano style.
In the forties, the Hines band became an “incubator” for some of the great bebop innovators. Among the major talents who cut their musical teeth with Earl’s orchestra were Walter Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bennie Green, Benny Harris and Wardell Gray.
Hines, who in his later years sported one of the most aggressive toupees in jazz, suffered a period of obscurity in the early 1960s, but he re-emerged in 1964 and his career enjoyed a tremendous revival after he played three concerts in New York which drew excellent reviews. In 1965 Hines made appearances at the Newport and Monterey Festivals where the revival in his professional fortunes was consolidated and thereafter he worked steadily, making regular trips to Europe for festival engagements. He visited the Soviet Union in 1966 and Japan, Australia and South America in the late sixties and early seventies.
In addition to being a brilliantly original pianist, Hines was also a composer of merit whose most celebrated compositions were Rosette, You Can Depend On Me and My Monday Date. He died in hospital at Oakland California on April 22, 1983.
photo: from booklet