1975 Documentary

Earl “Fatha” Hines

One of the finest jazz documentaries lets one spend an hour with one of jazz’s greatest pianists

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While Earl Hines (1903-83) developed a strikingly original and adventurous piano style by 1928, he was still an inventive player over a half-century later.

One of the first jazz pianists to break up time with his left-hand (rather than always stating the beat), Hines was a master at playing octaves with his right-hand (which allowed him to be heard over a big band) while his left sometimes took time-defying flights before landing back on the beat.

Whether recording with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, leading a top-notch big band in the 1930s, playing Dixieland in the 1950s, or making a comeback during his final 20 years when he was often heard playing stunning solo concerts, Earl Hines was one of the giants of jazz.

It is only right that he was the subject of one of the best documentaries which was filmed in 1975 at Washington D.C.’s Blues Alley.

Hines, who was turning 72 (not 70 as it says in the film), spends an informal afternoon talking about his career, playing solo piano, and occasionally singing, all of it in good humor; his expressions and smile while he listened to some of his recordings of the 1920s are particularly memorable.

Along the way Hines performs such numbers as “Save It Pretty Mama,” his recent original “They Didn’t Believe I Could Do It,” “Memories Of You,” “Stanley’s Dance,” “Say It Isn’t So,” and a medley of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and “Mood Indigo.”

This is certainly a great way to spend an hour.

-Scott Yanow


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