In a few months, midway between Christmas and New Year's, Earl "Fatha" Hines will celebrate his 75th birthday, a milestone not easily reconciled with the vitality of his performance Saturday night at Carter-Barron Amphitheatre.
Accustomed to playing small clubs and shorter sets, Hines obviously enjoyed the opportunity to stretch out before a crowd of several hundred people, many of whom appeared old enough to recall firsthand his early collaborations with Louis Armstrong.
Joined by bassist Jimmy Cox and drummer Eddie Grahm, Hines began jarring memories with a playful "Perdido" before moving to a seamless medley of tunes -- "Squeeze Me," "My Monday Date," "Rosetta" -- which redefined jazz piano some 50 years ago. Despite the familiarity of his material, Hines remains an inquisitive pianist, trading rhythmic and melodic functions from hand to hand, accenting each piece with unexpected chords, and embellishing them often with sly, humorous asides.
He was both mischievous and supportive, working with Eric Schneider, a young reedman who, like Scott Hamilton, wears his influences on his sleeve. Schneider brought the necessary big tone to "Body and Soul." But his warm tribute to Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster more clearly illustrated the considerable range of his talents.
Vocalist Marva Josie brought the show to a close in a soulful and saucy manner.