Earl Hines - piano; Budd Johnson - soprano sax; Bill Pemberton - bass; Oliver Jackson - drums
A modern jazz piano pioneer, Earl Hines was a major influence on a generation of players including Teddy Wilson, Joe Sullivan, Nat King Cole, and Erroll Garner. A member of Louis Armstrong's groundbreaking Hot Five ensemble from the mid-1920s, he is immortalized for his brilliant playing on "West End Blues," "Basin Street Blues," and most significantly for his revolutionary duet with Armstrong on 1928's "Weather Bird." Hines remained a consistently imaginative, vital player and sparkling soloist well into his 70s. He appeared at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival at age 64, fronting his working quartet of distinctive saxophonist and longtime collaborator Budd Johnson (he played in Hines' orchestra during the 1930s), bassist Bill Pemberton, and drummer Oliver Jackson.
For this abbreviated set, we hear the end of one tune, which is essentially an extended drum solo by Oliver Jackson. Hines then launches into a rococo solo piano intro that segues to a mellow rendition of the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn ballad "It's Magic," which is underscored by Jackson's supple brushwork and Pemberton's sparse, resounding tones on the upright bass. Johnson enters with some bracing soprano sax work at the two-minute mark, fairly singing the melancholy melody recorded in 1948 by Doris Day and Sarah Vaughan (and subsequently parodied by Bugs Bunny in the 1951 Warner Bros. cartoon "Rabbit Every Monday"). Hines' cascading piano work coming out of Johnson's solo is old school in its purely rhapsodic quality. By the 4:35 mark, he lays down some strong left hand comping, effectively emulating a rhythm guitar player while launching into more single note embellishments with the right hand (a technique later employed by Erroll Garner). Johnson's dramatic, long toned cadenza at the end of this tune is breathtaking.
The quartet closes out in briskly swinging fashion with an uptempo rendition of the Tin Pan Alley number "Love is Just Around the Corner" that prominently showcases his virtuosic keyboard tinkling. Johnson digs in on soprano sax and wails with bluesy authority as Jackson heats up the bandstand with his spirited ride cymbal work, bringing this Saturday evening set to a rousing conclusion.
Born on December 28, 1903, in the Pittsburgh suburb of Dusquesne, Pennsylvania, Hines grew up in a musical family. His father played cornet and was the leader of Pittsburgh's Eureka Brass Band while his mother was a church organist. He started off on trumpet before switching to piano at age 11. At age 17, he joined Lois Deppe & His Symphonian Serenaders and made his first recordings with the group in 1923. He moved to Chicago in 1925 and two years later joined Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, replacing Louis' wife Lil Hardin on piano. He recorded with clarinetist Jimmy Noone before forming his own big band in late 1928. Hines would lead big bands for the next 20 years. Key players in his band through the 1930s included trumpeter-violinist Ray Nance, trombonist Trummy Young, and tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson. Singer Billy Eckstine joined the band in 1940, and in 1943 Hines' big band included seminal beboppers Charlie Parker (on tenor sax) and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie along with singer Sarah Vaughan. The group, unfortunately, was never documented on record due to the American Federation of Musicians recording ban from 1942 to 1944. By the time the strike ended, Eckstine, Parker, Gillespie, and Vaughan were gone, but tenor sax great Wardell Gray was still around to star with the group during 1945 to 1946.
By 1948, Hines disbanded his orchestra and joined the Louis Armstrong All-Stars on tour for three years. After leaving Armstrong in 1951, he relocated to San Francisco, where he led a Dixieland band that at times features such players as trumpeter Muggsy Spanier and trombonist Jimmy Archey. Out of the national spotlight for years, Hines made a comeback in 1964 with a quartet featuring his old colleague Budd Johnson. In 1966, he was named to Down Beat magazine's Hall of Fame. He continued to record frequently through the '60s and '70s, also regularly touring Europe and Asia. He died on April 22, 1983, at age 79. (Milkowski)