Late Night Piano: Earl "Fatha" Hines

What's better company than piano music in the after-work hours? We say nothing, and so we're giving you a series covering key piano innovators, which you can follow here.

When Louis Armstrong added pianist Earl Hines to his group at the tail end of the 1920s, he finally had an instrumentalist on his level with whom he could spar. Their duet version of "Weather Bird" is totemic, in part for how it feels both easily swinging, but also virtuosic: Both Hines and Armstrong take chances, stray from the beat, and bring the art of improvisation to a startling new high in the process.

They played well together in larger group settings, too. During Hiness solo in "Chicago Breakdown," he flirts with desertion from the stride rhythm, before coming back in line during the ensemble playing. And check his fun, trilling breaks in "Symphonic Raps" (they start at the 1:29 mark). Likewise, Hines' solo in "Savoyagers Stomp" can surprise: It starts gently before piling on abstraction, and all without breaking a sweat.

But Hines didn't just cut immortal sides with Satchmo. His own recordings from that same decade show Hines' talent for toying with rhythm. Our playlist starts with his recording of "A Monday Date," and includes several of his other solo readings, on tunes like "Caution Blues" and "Panther Rag." Treats from his later, big-band sessions — like the powerhouse "G.T. Stomp" — are included, too. And you can even hear a bit of young bassist Charlie Mingus on "Spooky Boogie," an item from Hines' 1940s catalog. So click play on our playlist and jam with an hour of Hines. And some other evening, return to our series, and get into some more Late Night Piano.

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