"Ladies and gentlemen, Charlie's of is proud to present Earl 'Fatha' Hines!"
You bet it is.
Here it is the third August in a row that the Fatha has come to town (his "second hometown," he says) and the third August that Charlie's has been there, lurking under the Whitehurst hjFreeway, and the first August that the two have come together. No wonder Charlie's is proud, although this summer alone it's already set its stage for lots of other celebrities: Monty Alexander, Peter Nero, Astrud Gilberto and a group of Great Guitars -- the eponymous Charlie Byrd, Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel.
But this is one of the real fathers of jazz, here for this weekend, all week and a weekend to come; and what else could cause you to drive, of your own free will, down to where the cops used to tow your car and exact their $50?
Granted, the room's inviting: earth tones and a sea-tone abstract behind the bandstand; the service is quick, unpushy and unobtrusive; the menu is reasonable, and the small tables -- while close -- leave room for talking indiscreetly without having to look around. But that's not the draw, because lots of places can make the same claims.
The draw is the kind of shows that the place can attract, and Fatha Hines is a prime example: Here he is, about to be 77 just after Christmas, with a new quintet he's assembled -- standing up there saying he's "glad to be here tonight -- in fact, I'm glad to be anywhere tonight!" and playing old ragtime, modern jazz and whatever.
Fatha is getting old -- he needs help up and down the stage steps -- but there's nothing old about his ear or his touch on the piano. His backup group includes the remarkable Buddy Conner on vocals; Calvin Keys on guitar (and, as Fatha's guardian angel) at the heart of all ensemble numbers; Raphael Grinage as the steady bass and cello -- including one of his own compositions; and solid Eddie Moore on drums. Hadley Colman dropped in with his tenor sax and his flute, doing well by both.
So, what's Charlie's without Fatha Hines? It's a happy club, low-key crowd, with a $10 cover and two- drink minimum and food as late as midnight. If you're careful, you can get in and out, through a good show, for under $20 a head, including cover and minimum and enough food to satisfy the waitress; if the second show isn't sold out, you might be able to stay without paying a second cover. WHERE IT'S AT CHARLIE'S GEORGETOWN: 3223 K Street NW. 298-5985. Under the Whitehurst Freeway. EARLE (FATHA) HINES: Shows 8:30 and 10:30 during the week, 8:30, 10:30 and midnight on weekends.