June 1998

Earl Hines
His Best Recordings, 1927-1942
Best of Jazz

This provides an excellent introduction to some of Earl Hines' best recordings over a 15-year period, The "international panel of experienced and respected specialists" has made a good selection, but might have done better for the big band's records of the '40s.

"Easy Rhythm" is undistinguished and the arrangement of "The Earl" too busy, but inclusion of the latter-Mel Powell's tribute-is understandable. "Weather Bird" will presumably be in the Louis Armstrong package and a good sampling of 1928 sides in Jimmy Noone's. Here, the 1927 "Weary Blues" by a Johnny Dodds group (with Armstrong) offers a rewarding glimpse of the young Hines, already well-equipped rhythmically. His solo "Monday Date" on Q.R S., which follows, is a show-off fingerbuster, typical of the '20s, but a little too fast even for Hines. Moving into the '30s, there are good examples of one of the most exciting big bands. Darnell Howard's brilliant violin chorus on "Cavernism" is worth close attention, for he is said to have influenced Eddie South in jazz matters, There are band and solo performances of "Rosetta" and a superior version of "Body and Soul" on the electrified Storytone piano, made probably before the famous version by Hawkins hit the market. "Boogie Woogie on St. Louis Blues" is from an alternative take and without the familiar shouting, which is as much a loss as a gain. Shorts McConnell doesn't have an entry in "Grove," but proves himself a great trumpet player on the last two tracks (from 1942).

Throughout, the piano-playing is the vital element, both in solo and in the contributions of a band pianist sui generis. Complicated though it sometimes is, there is much evidence here to show why Hines became the paramount influence on jazz piano in the '30s. For exciting surprises and headlong swing, no one, in my opinion, ever equaled him.

Originally published in June 1998
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