Saturday, May 24, 2014

Earl Hines and Charles Mingus: A Brief Encounter

The music presented here is resulted from, by all means, a surprise session. An ad-hoc band with a line up that even a wild imagination can not conceive. First and most, it features the father of jazz piano Earl Hines and the most revolutionary figure of modern jazz, Charles Mingus. Still, there is more to this 67 years old wine.

Toward the end of the 40s, the size and the success of Earl Hines Orchestra, like most other big bands of that era, drastically shrank, and in 1947, when these sides were cut, it broke up for good. Shortly after, Hines joined Louis Armstrong All Stars and probably earned more money as a "sideman" than what he was gaining as the leader of the most adventures big band of the 40s.

In a cold day in Chicago, on December 31, 1947, Hines borrowed a "cast" from Lionel Hampton's big band that happened to be in town for a national tour and whose second bass player happened to be Mr Charlie Mingus. During the date, Hines and the Hampton men recorded four sides on 78rpm records.

For a rather predictable version of The Sheik of Araby, which opens with Hines on piano, Morris Lane was shortly yet brilliantly featured. Lane had a huge sound, like a crossover between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, and readers of this blog probably know him better for being a member of Bebop Boys, a recording group of Savoy artists, including Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke.

Morris Lane

Eddie South on violin follows Lane though on the record he is credited as Bill Dougherty. South and Lane exchange a couple of lines before Wini Brown (famous for his work in Cootie Williams band) starts to sing. A series of beautiful riffs rhythmically support the mediocre singer and they are blown by Lane, Duke Garrette on trumpet, and believe it or not, Charlie Fowlkes (later of Count Basie band) on baritone sax.

The next side has No Good Woman Blues (feat. Bobby Plater on alto sax), followed by two other vocal blues pieces, Bow Legged Mama (Hines' most impressive moments on these sides) and My Name Is On The Doorbell which wraps up the session. The latter contains a fantastic backing by Morris and a good solo by South.

Throughout the session it is hard or impossible to recognize the sound of Mingus. The restless bass player who had just started composing (Mingus Fingers) and recording (same song, with Hampton band) was evidently still searching for a musical identity or maybe he was just following the norms of a regular session.

Those four sides, sometimes reissued under the title Curley Hamner And His Orchestra (who was Hampton's drummer and co-director of that band), can be listened here:

Duke Garrette (trumpet) Bobby Plater (alto saxophone) Morris Lane (tenor saxophone) Charlie Fowlkes (baritone saxophone) Eddie South (violin) Earl Hines (piano) Billy Mackel (guitar) Charles Mingus (bass) Curley Hamner (drums) Wini Brown (vocals)

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