Earl Hines (December 28, 1903 – April 22, 1983), was an American jazz pianist and bandleader.
On December 28, 1928 (his 25th birthday and six weeks before the Saint Valentine's Day massacre), the always-immaculate Hines opened at Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe leading his own big band, the pinnacle of jazz ambition at the time. "All America was dancing", Hines said, and for the next 12 years and through the worst of the Great Depression and Prohibition, Hines's band was the orchestra at the Grand Terrace. The Hines Orchestra – or "Organization", as Hines preferred it – had up to 28 musicians and did three shows a night at the Grand Terrace, four shows every Saturday and sometimes Sundays. According to Stanley Dance, "Earl Hines and The Grand Terrace were to Chicago what Duke Ellington and The Cotton Club were to New York – but fierier."
The Grand Terrace was controlled by the gangster Al Capone, so Hines became Capone's "Mr Piano Man". The Grand Terrace upright piano was soon replaced by a white $3,000 Bechstein grand. Talking about those days Hines later said:
… Al Capone came in there one night and called the whole band and show together and said, "Now we want to let you know our position. We just want you people just to attend to your own business. We'll give you all the Protection in the world but we want you to be like the 3 monkeys: you hear nothing and you see nothing and you say nothing". And that's what we did. And I used to hear many of the things that they were going to do but I never did tell anyone. Sometimes the Police used to come in … looking for a fall guy and say, "Earl what were they talking about?" … but I said, "I don't know - no, you're not going to pin that on me," because they had a habit of putting the pictures of different people that would bring information in the newspaper and the next day you would find them out there in the lake somewhere swimming around with some chains attached to their feet if you know what I mean.
From the Grand Terrace, Hines and his band broadcast on "open mikes" over many years, sometimes seven nights a week, coast-to-coast across America – Chicago being well placed to deal with live broadcasting across time zones in the United States. The Hines band became the most broadcast band in America. Among the listeners were a young Nat "King" Cole and Jay McShann in Kansas City, who said his "real education came from Earl Hines. When 'Fatha' went off the air, I went to bed." Hines's most significant "student" was Art Tatum.
The Hines band usually comprised 15-20 musicians on stage, occasionally up to 28. Among the band's many members were Wallace Bishop, Alvin Burroughs, Scoops Carry, Oliver Coleman, Bob Crowder, Thomas Crump, George Dixon, Julian Draper, Streamline Ewing, Ed Fant, Milton Fletcher, Walter Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Leroy Harris, Woogy Harris, Darnell Howard, Cecil Irwin, Harry 'Pee Wee' Jackson, Warren Jefferson, Budd Johnson, Jimmy Mundy, Ray Nance, Charlie Parker, Willie Randall, Omer Simeon, Cliff Smalls, Leon Washington, Freddie Webster, Quinn Wilson and Trummy Young.
Occasionally, Hines allowed another pianist sit in for him, the better to allow him to conduct the whole "Organization". Jess Stacy was one, Nat "King" Cole and Teddy Wilson were others, but Cliff Smalls was his favorite.
Each summer, Hines toured with his whole band for three months, including through the South – the first black big band to do so. He explained, " we traveled by train through the South, they would send a porter back to our car to let us know when the dining room was cleared, and then we would all go in together. We couldn't eat when we wanted to. We had to eat when they were ready for us."
In Duke Ellington's America, Harvey G Cohen writes:
In 1931, Earl Hines and his Orchestra "were the first big Negro band to travel extensively through the South". Hines referred to it as an "invasion" rather than a "tour". Between a bomb exploding under their bandstage in Alabama (" …we didn't none of us get hurt but we didn't play so well after that either") and numerous threatening encounters with the Police, the experience proved so harrowing that Hines in the 1960s recalled that, "You could call us the first Freedom Riders". For the most part, any contact with whites, even fans, was viewed as dangerous. Finding places to eat or stay overnight entailed a constant struggle. The only non-musical 'victory' that Hines claimed was winning the respect of a clothing-store owner who initially treated Hines with derision until it became clear that Hines planned to spend $85 on shirts, "which changed his whole attitude".
He was one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz piano and, according to one major source, is "one of a small number of pianists whose playing shaped the history of jazz".
The trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (a member of Hines's big band, along with Charlie Parker) wrote, "The piano is the basis of modern harmony. This little guy came out of Chicago, Earl Hines. He changed the style of the piano. You can find the roots of Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, all the guys who came after that. If it hadn't been for Earl Hines blazing the path for the next generation to come, it's no telling where or how they would be playing now. There were individual variations but the style of … the modern piano came from Earl Hines."
The pianist Lennie Tristano said, "Earl Hines is the only one of us capable of creating real jazz and real swing when playing all alone." Horace Silver said, "He has a completely unique style. No one can get that sound, no other pianist". Erroll Garner said, "When you talk about greatness, you talk about Art Tatum and Earl Hines".
Count Basie said that Hines was, "the greatest piano player in the world".
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