Honoring Earl Hines with a night to remember is no easy task. At 73, Hines, the father of modern jazz piano, has certainly met his quota of memorable evenings, evenings spent in the company of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and among presidents and royalty.
Nontheless, the D.C. city government, the Howard Theatre Foundation and the United Black Fund gave "Fatha" Hines plenty of reason to rearrange his scrapbook last night with a 21-gun big band salute at the Howard Theatre.
The purpose of the concert was actually twofold: to salute D.C.'s newest honorary citizen on his day (proclaimed earlier this week by Mayor Barry) and to help raise funds for the renovation of the Howard Theatre, once an important showcase for black musicians and now little more than a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The theater is sorely in need of funds, a fact that was emphasized by the poor turnout at last night's performance.
Maybe a hundred people were on hand to see Hines, with his brilliant hornlike runs on the piano, enjoy a luxury few musicians can afford these days -- a big brassy band complete with strings.
Big and brassy enough to lure even D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy into song.
Rather than add to the long list of awards and proclamations, Fauntroy grabbed the microphone and saluted Hines with "The Greatest Love of All," sustaining the last note longer than most filibusters.
But of course the night belonged to Earl Hines, a gracious guest of honor but a far more entertaining musician. It's unlikely that his music will ever be displayed to better advantage in Washington. Hines' concert series is a delightful return to the heady big band era of the '40s with singers, dancers, chorus girls and even a vaudeville revue competing for attention.
The series continues with two shows scheduled for tonight and a matinee and evening show on Sunday.