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jazz’s legendary earl “fatha” hines — 8/31/18-Delanceyplace.com

jazz's legendary earl "fatha" hines — 8/31/18-Delanceyplace.com



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Today's selection — from Nat King Cole by Daniel Mark Epstein.


Earl Hines, one of the early jazz pioneers, had a career dream that became a nightmare under Al Capone:

"To know Nat [King] Cole you must first know Earl Hines, his artistic father. Earl's teeth were like the white keys of a piano. They called him Gate­mouth because his mouth was like the pearly gates and he was always smiling. He smiled because he loved to play piano and he was almost always playing. Sometimes he smiled so hard the muscles in his face would freeze and the smile would stick on his face for an hour or so after the show was over. One of his sidemen would have to massage the smile off his face.

"Musicians were already beginning to call Earl Hines 'Fatha' at age thirty-two because he had given birth to a style — more than a style, a virtual language — of jazz piano. There were wicked rumors that Hines had an invisible third hand, that he had made a pact with the Devil. Men who had never seen him up close, envious musicians, said that Gatemouth had cut the 'webs' between his fingers with a razor blade, so as to give him the extra stretch needed to manage those tenth-interval trills.

"Every kid pianist in the Midwest copied Earl Hines. Hines … had been a prodigy, mastering the Czerny exercises and playing Chopin preludes by the age of eleven in Duquesne, Pennsyl­vania. By the time he was fourteen Hines was winning prizes and getting his picture in the paper. He was drawn to popular music. Earl was living with his Aunt Sadie Phillips when he was in high school, and she dab­bled in light opera. Musicians like Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, re­nowned pianist/composer Lucky Roberts, and singer Lois Deppe liked to visit Sadie and play on her piano. That is how Earl first heard ragtime and blues. …


Hines in 1947
(photograph by William P. Gottlieb)


"Soon Hines orga­nized a band called the Symphonian Serenaders. He watched other pianists. Jim Fellman taught him to make 'tenths' with his left hand. Johnny Waters of Detroit could stretch tenths with his right hand while playing a little melody with the middle fingers. Young Earl watched, and listened, and stretched his growing hands. …

"By the time Earl Hines arrived in Chicago in 1924 at age twenty, he had recorded eight sides for [the label of] Gennet, including his own 'Congaine,' and Lucky's 'Isabel.' He had formed his own band with Benny Carter on sax and 'Cuban' Bennet blowing trumpet. And at twenty-one, Gatemouth had forged a piano style that surpassed that of James P. Johnson and rivaled the work of the great Jelly Roll Morton, the self-styled 'Originator of Jazz.' … 

"Jelly Roll may have created jazz piano. But Gatemouth Earl Hines was the first grand master of the art, bringing to that complex, many-voiced instrument the volume and harmonic richness it deserves. He drew upon three hundred years of European chording and counterpoint to embellish the dance music of New Orleans. He would free his left hand from the chains of the stride bass, without missing a beat of dance rhythm, using his left to make melodies and harmonies from one end of the keyboard to the other. Upward glissandos, octave slides, he played with a nimble left hand so free of his right that it was hard to believe there was only one man at the piano.

"Jelly heard Earl Hines playing solo at the Elite No. 2 Club in Chicago in 1924, before Gatemouth went on the road with Carroll Dickerson's band. A few years later he might have heard Earl at the Sunset Cafe, a mob-controlled nightclub on 35th and Calumet, playing duets with Louis Armstrong, numbers such as 'Muggles' and 'Weather Bird Rag.' There in the Sunset Cafe in 1927 and 1928 the twenty-one-year-old keyboard genius and the twenty-seven-year-old archangel of the trum­pet created the seminal rhythmic language of ensemble jazz. …

"On his birthday, December 28, 1928, Earl Hines and his ten-piece band opened Ed Fox's brand-new Grand Terrace, a Chicago nightclub and dance hall at Oakwood and South Parkway Boulevard. Customers sat on different terracelike levels on either side of the bandstand. … In 1932, when business was booming at the Grand Terrace, Al Capone sent five men to pay Ed Fox a visit. They entered without knock­ing. …

"'We're going to take twenty-five percent,' Capone's man told Fox. 

"From that point forward … Earl Hines had two bosses, one of whom was scarface Al Capone. … Capone began to think of Gatemouth as property. When Hines went on the road with his band, two bodyguards accompanied him every­where because Scarface was worried a rival gang might injure Hines to hurt Capone. When the pianist protested he didn't need two body­guards, Capone shrugged and said it was no big deal, he had thirty of them himself. … During the rule of the gangsters in the 1930s Earl Hines's dream became a nightmare. He was a black songbird in a gilded cage."




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Nat King Cole
Author: Daniel Mark Epstein
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright 1999 by Daniel Mark Epstein
Pages: 6-10

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