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Our Fatha

Rediscovering the piano artistry of Earl Hines.

Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By COLIN FLEMING
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Hines never dominates the proceedings, but there is never any doubt as to who is the singular player in these lineups. What always impresses is just how flat-out loud—punchy—Hines’s piano is, as if he had found a way to gussy-up his decibel level without coming across as abrasive or ostentatious. Hines may have ended his career as a rococo soloist, perched uncomfortably between notions of himself as a concert pianist and a rhythm-dispensing jazzman. But Count Basie and Sviatoslav Richter both could hunker down with some of the showstoppers spread throughout this box set and find common ground. 

“Flang Doodle Swing,” “Father Steps In,” “Comin’ In Home,” “The Father Jumps,” and “The Earl” are the kinds of performances you cue up for any jazz piano neophyte and say, “Have a listen to this”—with an instant convert shortly to be staring back at you, mouth agape. But just as important, in terms of how we think of Hines, is the new thematic strain that emerges throughout the set: the notion of him as a percussive bluesman. Fast runs were always something of a Hines specialty, but a performance like “Windy City Jive,” from 1941, reveals a player perfectly at his ease in bluesier climes. One begins to hear an element of the blues in even the most volcanic solos, as if Hines hit a fast-forward button and turned one subset of jazz into another. 

Colin Fleming is the author of Between Cloud and Horizon: A Relationship Casebook in Stories