The Earl Hines orchestra of the early 1940s has come down in the history of jazz as an incubator of be-bop: The group boasted Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and other young modernists.
But its sounds were never documented on record because of a year-long dispute between the American Federation of Musicians and the record companies. As the late pianist told it, this was "probably the best and most successful band I ever had." It was put together through the efforts of vocalist Billy Eckstine and others in order to persuade Hines to stay in the big band business. The strategy worked--Hines did not disband until 1947 when he joined Louis Armstrong's newly formed combo.
Tonight in the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium, Gillespie and Eckstine will pay musical and verbal tribute to Hines in an evening cosponsored by the institution's Resident Associates program, Mayor Marion Barry's office and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
If the "Fatha," one of the great raconteurs in the music world, could be there to tell stories on the others, he might recount the time the three of them were speeding down a Chicago street and the police pulled them over. The quick-thinking pianist advised the vocalist to "play sick and groan" so that they could claim they were on their way to a hospital. When the officer indicated a trip to the station house was in order, Gillespie groaned, too, and was promptly asked by the law, "Are you sick, too?" The trumpeter's deadpan answer was, "I am now!"