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Earl Hines: Fatha’s Blues

The first disc was made in 1964 by Bob Thiele and has already been reissued as half of a two-CD Red Baron set (J2K-57331). It was made in one three-hour session at the time of Hines’ comeback, when he was still given to styling himself a “band pianist” and not “a soloist,” but here is a splendid demonstration of how ready he was in the latter capacity. The annotation by Harvey Pekar is strange indeed he seems to think that singer Lois Deppe, the baritone who put “Without a Song” on the map, was a woman. He doesn’t believe that swing is essential in jazz, nor that it is possible to “swing and improvise fascinatingly” at the same time. However, he acknowledges that Hines “could and often did swing,” that Monk “swung less,” and that Cecil Taylor “didn’t swing at all.” He also implies that the Hines series of “outstanding solo and trio albums” ended in the mid-’60s. He needs a discography.

The second disc is a splendid encounter between Jimmy Rushing and the Hines quartet of 1967, which notably included Budd Johnson. Jimmy sings on “Exactly Like You,” “Am I Blue?,” “Save It, Pretty Mama” and “St. Louis Blues” with his unique blend of exuberance and conviction, and there are five instrumentals, among them a masterly “Changin’ the Blues.” Hines always liked to minimize his ability as a blues player, but this is just one of his several blues masterpieces. His ability to create anew on the familiar 12-bar foundation is enhanced here by five key changes in the course of a long solo, hence the title. The death of his friend Don Redman in 1964 was still on his mind, and he insisted on interpolating Redman’s “If It’s True” in “Save It, Pretty Mama,” which they had recorded together with Louis Armstrong in 1928.

The third disc (manufactured in Portugal) was recorded for Lionel Hampton’s Who’s Who of Jazz series in 1977. “We seem to understand one another,” a jubilant Hampton told me after they finished playing “Chicago.” It was something of an understatement, because they shared a Chicago background during some of that city’s greatest jazz days. Backed by Milt Hinton, Grady Tate and, unnecessarily, conga drummer Sam Turner, they turn in some very exciting performances. On an up-tempo “I Know That You,” they seem to be remembering the famous Jimmy Noone version, and “If It’s True” is here again, too, nearly six minutes long. There’s a moving “If I Had You,” with Ellington bowing to good effect, a mightily inventive “Earl’s Pearl,” and a “St. Louis Blues” without boogie. Altogether, an outstanding disc. And pace, Mr. Pekar, they swing sometimes, more than somewhat.

Originally Published