Earl Fatha Hines

Father of Modern Jazz Piano

Earl "Fatha" Hines, a brilliant innovative keyboard virtuoso, is recognized as one of jazz's greatest pianists.  He was also an influential band leader.  His popular Hines Orchestra launched the careers of many jazz greats and was the incubator for Be-Bop jazz.  Hines was also a pioneering recording artist who made some of the definitive recordings of jazz history including the Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions with Louis Armstrong.  Throughout his career he recorded prolifically leaving behind a discography of over one hundred albums and hundreds of recordings as a sideman and session accompanist.  

Earl Hines was a popular national radio star.  He and Lois Deppe were the first African American musicians ever to perform on radio in 1921.  The Hines Orchestra heard seven days a week on live national radio was the most broadcast band in America during the Depression and the early 1940s.  The Hines Orchestra scored many hit records such as “You Can Depend on Me”, “Jelly Jelly”, “G.T. Stomp,” and “Harlem Laments”. On its frequent tours of the country the Hines Orchestra was mobbed by fans at its sold out shows. Hines gave many great jazz artists their start in his orchestra such as Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Nat King Cole.  After the big band days Earl Hines toured the world with Louis Armstrong and as a solo artist.   

With his contributions to jazz piano, his leadership of an influential band and jazz artists, his broadcast popularity, and his extensive recordings, Earl Hines created a lasting influence on generations of jazz musicians.  His contributions to jazz are recognized by his inductions into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame.

Earl Hines was highly respected by great jazz pianists.

"The greatest piano player in the world" – Count Basie

"When you talk about greatness, you talk about Art Tatum and Earl Hines". – Erroll Garner

He has a completely unique style. No one can get that sound, no other pianist" – Horace Silver

"In his pioneering work with Louis Armstrong in the late 1920's, Mr. Hines virtually redefined jazz piano." - Jon Pareles New York Times

Earl Hines was the first modern jazz pianist.  He redefined the role of piano in jazz freeing it from a limited role as a rhythm instrument.  He originated the "trumpet style" of jazz piano, playing hornlike solo lines in octaves with his right hand and rich chords with his left hand.  Using his classical training he added depth to jazz with rich dissonant chords.  Hines defined for generations of jazz pianists the role of each hand in jazz piano and added richness to it chord structures.  Playing with Louis Armstrong he expanded the role of piano in jazz with improvisational solos.  Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nate King Cole and other pianist where inspired by Earl  listening to him play live on the radio while growing up.  Hines is credited by music historians as being the first of the Pittsburgh School of piano jazz that includes Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal and others.

Growing up in Duquense

Earl Kenneth Hines was born on December 25, 1905 in Duquesne, Pa.  His father Joseph Hines was a foreman on the coal docks who supervised the loading of coal barges.  Earl's mother died when he was three and his father remarried.  His parents, his step brother and sister, grandparents, uncles and cousins all lived in a twelve room house at the end of town on top of Grant Avenue.  On their property they had a large garden and raised chickens and hogs.  Earl had to walk 25 blocks down hill to get to school.  His family was one of only 12 African American families in Duquense which had a population of 19,000.

During World World I, African Americans from the South migrated to Duquense for work in the steel industry.  Forced by segregation Earl's family moved down the hill andacross the tracks to Fourth Street into a neighborhood of illegal Hungarian and Austrian immigrants and southern migrants.  

Earl Hines' family was very musical.  His father, a cornet player, formed and headed the fourteen member Eureka Brass Band that performer at summer picnics in the Mon Valley towns of McKeesport, Braddock, Duquense, and Homestead. An uncle on his mother's side played several brass instruments.  His mother' sister Sadie Philips was a light opera singer who performed in Pittsburgh.  

Earl's step mother owned a parlor organ and gave Earl his first keyboard lessons.  She traded in the organ for a piano so that Earl could take piano lessons.  He began piano studies in 1914 at age 9 with Emma D. Young of McKeesport.  Learning quickly he advanced through several teachers.  German trained pianist Von Holtz taught him the music of the European masters.  As his skill grew Hines competed in classical music competitions organized by Von Holtz.  At age eleven Earl played the organ weekly at his Baptist Church.  

Earl's parents took him to see theatrical shows in Pittsburgh.  With a good ear and a good memory Earl learned popular songs that he heard just one time at those shows. He was able to play show tune months before the sheet music was released.  His cousin Pat Patterson took Earl to parties and had him perform all night  Earl said his cousin treated him as his own "Victrola".  Hines said he played piano around Pittsburgh "before the word 'jazz' was even invented".

When he was 14, Hines moved to Pittsburgh to live with his aunt Sadie Phillips so that he could attend Schenly High School   His goal was to major in music to become a classical pianist   Aunt Sadie took him to music reviews where her heard ragtime performed by Eubie Blake and other artists. At age 15 Hines went with his older cousins and an uncle to a nightclub on Wyle Avenue in Pittsburgh where he heard jazz for the first time.  Hooked on jazz, he abandoned his classical music ambitions.  Earl formed a popular music trio in 1921 with  violinist Emmet Jordan and drummer Harry Williams. They performed at school functions, church socials, rent parties and nightclubs.  

Working with Lois Deppe

Sometime in 1921 singer Lois B. Deppe heard Earl Hines and his trio play at a rent party. Deppe was amazed with Earl's piano playing.  Deppe was a popular singer who had performed classic music concerts in Pittsburgh and sang popular songs at the Collins Inn on Wyle Avenue.

In 1921 Lois Deppe hired Earl Hines to be his piano accompanist for a year long engagement at the Leider House (later known as the Crawford Grill).  Deppe hired him because he could read music.  Earning $15 a week with two meals a day it was Hines’s first steady job.  Hines lived at the Lieber House before he moved into an apartment on 1521 Wyle Avenue  He spent his free time learning from other musicians at Hill district clubs. Earl had lessons in rhythm from a banjoist named Verchet and learned jazz piano techniques from Johnny Waters and Jim Fellman.  

Deppe slowly expanded his ensemble hiring drummer Harry Williams and Earl's Duquense friend violinist Emmett Jordan.  Hines went back to Schenely High School in the Fall but continued to work nights and weekends with Deppe.  As his night time bookings increased his teachers advised him to drop out of school in his junior year to pursue his music career.  Hines worked iwht Deppe at the Lieder House for two years.  As Deppe’s ensemble grew in popularity the Pittsburgh Courier dubbed Earl Hines “The Best in Town”.   

Deppe and Hines appeared as a duet on KDKA radio in 1921. They were the first African Americans performers ever to appear on radio. The broadcast was played over a loud speaker on Wylie Avenue.  Crowns mobbed the street to listen and then stayed to cheer Deppe and Hines when they made it back to the Hill. 

In 1922 Deppe added more players to form an orchestra that he named "Deppe’s Seranaders".  It was Pittsburgh first swing band. The Seranaders appeared at Pittsburgh's Paramount Inn, the Collins Inn, and on the popular river boat cruises called “The Palace of the Rivers”. The Seranaders went on tour playing on night stands in small towns across Ohio and West Virginia. 

As the Seranders grew in size Hines devised a way to have his un-amplified piano heard. Combining the techniques of two pianists that he listen to on the Hill, Johnny Waters and Jim Fellman,  Hines developed his unique octave “trumpet-style” of piano playing to cut through the sound of the other instruments. 

First Recordings

In October of 1923 shortly after recording was invented, Lois Deppe and the Seranaders recorded at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana.  They recorded four songs of which two were released.  One of the songs was Earl Hines’ original composition “Congaine” that featured Earl with a solo.  They recorded more songs a month later that were released by Gennett.  The records were a hit in  Pittsburgh.

Hines left Deppe’s Seranaders in 1924 and played piano with the house band at the Collins Inn.  He formed his own band in Pittsburgh with legendary saxophonist Benny Carter, Cuban Bennett on trumpet, and Emmett Jordan on violin, and his old fried Harry Williams on drums.  They started out playing the the Grapevine club and later worked at the Collins Inn and the Leider House..  

Eurbie Blake Counsels Earl with his Cane.

Ragtime pianist Eubie Blake who appeared frequently in Pittsburgh was a friend of Earl’s Aunt Sadie.  Eubie heard Earl play at his aunt’s house several times.  Blake told Sadie "This boy's a genius.  He has no business staying here".  One one visit to Aunt Sadie's Blake advised Earl that if he wanted to make it in show business he had to leave Pittsburgh. He told Earl, Son, you have no business here. You got to leave Pittsburgh.   I’m going to take this cane and wear it out all over your head if you’re not gone when I come back.”’  The opportunity soon came knocking when Harry Collin, the owner of the Collin’s Inn, asked Earl if he would play at his new Elite #2 club on State Street in Chicago. 

On to Chicago and a National Tour

Hines moved to Chicago to play with Vernie Robinson at the Elite #2. It was an after hours club open from midnight to 6 A.M.  World quickly spread among musicians about the innovative new pianist at Elite #2.  Jelly Roll Morton, Teddy Weatherford, band leader Carol Dickerson and other prominent musicians came out to see Earl.  Dickerson persuade Earl to join his band working at the larger Entertainers Café in 1925.  Hines  went on a 42 week national tour with Dickerson's band in 1926 that took them all the way to California.

Playing with Louis Armstrong

On his return to Chicago Earl met a 24 year old trumpet player by the name of Louis Armstrong in the pool room of the Chicago Musicians Union.  Earl talked Louis into working with him in Dickerson’s band.  Later in 1828 Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and drummer Zutty Singleton formed a trio that performed as the mobster club Café Sunset.  When that club closed Hines joined clarinetist Jimmy Noone’s band performing at the Apex Club.  

Records with Armstrong and the Hot Five

In sessions for Okeh Records in June and December of 1928 Hines recorded 18 songs with Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five.  Jazz historians consider the Hot Five sessions to be a turning point the in the history of jazz producing master pieces of early jazz.  Armstrong emerged as the first virtuoso performed in jazz and create the basis of swing rhythm.. Hines brought the trumpet style of piano to prominence. Those sessions produced the landmark recording of “Weather Bird” a remarkable improvisational trumpet-piano duet between Armstrong and Hines.  The recording of Hines’ original song “A Monday Date” showcased the piano as a solo instrument in jazz. The Hot Five and Seven sessions also produced the classics "West End Blues," "Fireworks", and "Basin Street Blues".   Hines also recorded with Jimmy Noone’s band in 1928.  He also recorded his first solo piano releases for Okeh and  QRS Records during this period.

Grand Terrace Ballroom and National Radio

In December of 1928 at age 25 Hines formed his own 28 member orchestra beginning a ten year engagement at the prestigious Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago. Partly owned by Al Capone, the Grand Terrace was the Cotton Club of Chicago.  The band played jazz and dance music seven days a week, performing three shows a night on weekdays and four shows on Saturdays.  The Hines Orchestra became national known through tours, coast to coast radio broadcasts, and hit recordings during the 1930s through 1948.  They toured the country two to three months of the year.  They were one of the first African-American bands to tour the South beginning in 1931.  Beginning in 1934 the Hines Orchestra was broadcast live on national radio from the Grand Terrace for many years, sometimes seven nights a week. They became the most broadcast band in America.  The Grand Terrace closed suddenly in December 1940 when the manager, Ed Fox, disappeared.  Hines kept his band together for another eight years playing on the road and recording.

"Fatha Hines" is Born

Hines was christened with the nickname of “Fatha” by the MC of his radio show.  Before a show the MC was found passed out drunk on a table.  Earl lectured the MC about his drinking.  At the start of the show the angry announcer, stinging from Earl’s fatherly advice, introduced Earl and his band saying “Here comes Fatha Hines out of the forest with his children.”  Earl hated the nickname “Fatha” but it stuck. Before then Earl Hines was often referred to as “Gatemouth” because his teeth were white the like the pearly gates and he always smiled when playing the piano. Music historians say “Fatha” is an apt name as Earl Hines in one of the fathers of jazz.

The Earl Hines Orchestra recorded for several recording labels: Victor in 1929, Brunswick (1932–1934), Decca (1934–1935), Vocalion (1937–1938), and for Bluebird starting in 1939 until the industry-wide recording ban.  In July of 1942 the American Federation of Musician went on strike against the recording companies demanding that artists be paid royalties for their recordings.   All union musicians stopped recording from 1942 through1945. During this period playing in late night jam sessions members of the Hines' band that included Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie laid the foundations of Bebop.  Duke Ellington said "the seeds of bop were in Earl Hines's piano style". The band playing flatted fifth chords and modern harmonies with Dizzy Gillespie doing runs on the trumpet section work. But because of ban no recordings of this new sound was made.  In 1942 Hines added Pittsburgh vocalist Billy Eckstine to his band.  With Eckstine the band recording its biggest hits “Jelly Jelly”, “Boogie-Woogie on the St. Louis Blues”. “The Jitney Man",  and “Stormy Monday Blues.” In 1943 Hines expanded his band to include an all-female string section and a female vocal group.  Hines received Esquire Magazine’s Silver Award in 1944.

Hines split up his band in 1948 as the big dance band crazed died.  He joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars in 1948 and toured Europe for two years.  Wanting to be a band leader again he left the All-Stars in 1951, moved to San Francisco, and formed the Dixeland revival band “Hot Jazz”. Hines took a regular gig playing at the Hangover Club in San Francisco from 1955 into the early 1960s.  He continued record and tour in Canada, England, and the European during this time.  In 1964, his unofficial manager Stanley Dance convinced Earl to perform three solo concert recitals at The Little Theatre in New York.  As Hines had always performed as a band pianist, these were his first solo performances.  The recitals were a critical and audience sensation.  Earl Hines was re-discovered and came into great demand.  He released a series of solo, trio, and quartet and starred in several international tours.  They year of 1966 was a highlight in his career.  Hines traveled to Russia as a goodwill ambassador playing with the State Department's jazz combo.  The Down Beat Magazine readers elected Hines world's "No 1 Jazz Pianist" for 1966, (He won five additional years),, and he was inducted into the Down Beat’s Jazz Hall of Fame. His recordings won several awards from Jazz Journal and he was named “Jazzman of the Year” by Jazz Magazine. Hines appeared on the Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas televisions show in 66.

During the 1970s Hines continued to tour the world with his quartet. He released many outstanding recordings during this period such as “Tour De Force” and “Quintessential Continued”.  He also recorded with dozens of other artists including Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus. Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn,  Elvin Jones, Etta Jones, The Inkspots, Peggy Lee, and "Ditty Wah Ditty" with Ry Cooder.  In 1975 he was featured in a one hour solo performance special on British television.  

Earl Hines continued to perform until the weekend before his death at age 79 in 1983 at his home in Oakland, California.  The “Gateman” left the world smiling with enjoyment of his great music as he entered the pearly gates.

The Music of Earl Hines

BBC Series Earl Hines Jazz Legend

The Music of Earl Hines TV Channel
Earl Hines at the Lieder House
Earl Hines with the Carroll Dickerson Band

Earl Hines Orchestra Poster
Earl Hines Orchestra

Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Billy Eckstine
Earl "Fatha" "Gatemouth" Hines