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Chicago Illinois

Earl "Fatha" Hines
Jazz Musician and Bandleader
1st African American to Perform on Radio and Most Influential in Jazz Piano

Earl Hines was one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz piano.  He was noted as a trailblazer, his unique style, and credited with changing the style of modern piano.   Many famed musicians sung praises to him, including Dizzy Gillespie (a member of his big-band), Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, with Count Basie saying that he was “The greatest piano player in the world”.

Earl Hines grew up surrounded by music, with his father playing cornet and leading the Pittsburgh Eureka Brass Band, and his stepmother a church organist.  He began playing organ for a local Baptist church at the age of 11.  Over the course of time, he became known for having a good ear and good memory, able to replay songs that he heard in theaters and park concerts.  Earl spent the majority of his youth playing piano all around Pittsburgh.

At the age of 17, with his father’s approval, he moved away from home and took a job playing piano in a nightclub, where in return he got boarding, two meals a day, and $15 a week.  Earl also worked for and traveled with Lois Deppe, a well-known baritone concert artist, as his concert accompanist.  In 1921 Hines (age 18) and Depp became the first African Americans to perform on radio.  And while still in the very early days of recordings, Hines and Depp recorded several records, most of which were published.
Earl Hines and Lois Depp
In the early 1920s, Chicago, Illinois was the jazz capital of the world, and in 1925, Hines moved to there and began playing in clubs.  He eventually joined the Carroll Dickerson band, with whom he toured the Pantages Theater Circuit to Los Angeles and back.  

Upon his return, within the same year, Hines met a 24 year old Louis Armstrong at the Chicago Black Musicians’ Union, and the two began playing clubs together and developing a fast friendship.  Starting with this period, Hines’ unique style of play, his departure from what other pianists were playing received first early notoriety.  

Louis Armstrong and Hines became a performing duo, playing the same clubs, and joining the same bands.  Eventually, Louis Armstrong managed his own band, with Hines as his pianist.  Armstrong and Hines then recorded some of the most important jazz records ever made.
At the age of 25, in December 1928, Hines reached the pinnacle of jazz ambition --- leading his own big band, at the Grand Terrace Café of Chicago.  Notorious gangster, Al Capone controlled the Grand Terrace.  And for the next 12 years and through the worst of the Great Depression and Prohibition, his band was “The Orchestra” at the Grand Terrace, with 28 musicians, doing 3 to 4 shows a night.  It was common for soon to be jazz revolutionaries, including Charlie Parker and Billy Eckstine, to work in his band.  And all band members were personally instructed by Mr. Al Capone to never speak a word about anything seen or overhead at the club, at the risk of death.

The Birth of Bebop
From the Grand Terrace, His and his band broadcast on live, open mikes, for serveral years.  Each summer, he toured his whole band for three months, including through the South – the first black big-band to do so.  They were the very first Black band to travel extensively through the South, having to deal with Jim Crow laws, bombs, death threats, and the ordeal of finding places to eat or stay overnight.  In 1940, the Grand Terrace Café suddenly closed, and Hines took his band on the road full-time for the next 8 years, touring coast-to-coast across America.

During the early 1940s, and particularly during the 1942-44 musician’s strike, members of the Hines late-night jam-sessions laid the seeds for the emerging new style in jazz --- bebop.  Ellington later said that, “the seeds of bop were in Earl Hines’ piano style”.

Earl "Fatha" Hines from Mark Bunker on Vimeo.