“G.T. Stomp” (1939) Earl “Fatha” Hines
Composed by Walter Hirsch and Gerald Marks; “head” arrangement later formalized by Earl Hines and Budd Johnson.
Recorded by Earl Hines and His Orchestra for RCA Bluebird on July 12, 1939 in New York.
Earl “Fatha” Hines, piano, directing: Edward Simms, Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, George Dixon(*), trumpets; Edward Burke, John “Streamline” Ewing, Joe McLewis, trombones; Omer Simeon and Leroy Harris, alto saxophones; Albert “Budd” Johnson and Robert Crowder, tenor saxophones; Claude Roberts, guitar; Quinn Wilson, bass; Alvin “Mouse” Burroughs, drums. (George Dixon doubled on alto and baritone saxophones, but in this performance he plays trumpet.)
The story: Earl Hines (1903-1983), was a pioneering jazz pianist and leader of a great band during the swing era. Hines’s keyboard style was based on virtuoso technique, rhythmic intensity (stride and swing on steroids), and single note lines played by the right hand. He influenced an entire generation of great jazz pianists including Jess Stacy, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole and Mel Powell.(1) Hines had a long and illustrious career. He was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and partook in the rich musical heritage of nearby Pittsburgh to learn his craft. He moved to Chicago in 1925 in order to be near the great jazz musicians who were there then including Jelly Roll Morton, Joe “King” Oliver, and most importantly, Louis Armstrong. Hines and Armstrong had a productive and creative musical partnership until 1928, when they went their separate ways, both to become famous soloists and bandleaders. In the late 1940s, they would reunite for a few years.
On December 28, 1928 (his 25th birthday and six weeks before the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre), Earl Hines opened at Chicago’s Grand Terrace Cafe’ (at its original location – 3955 South Parkway), leading his own big band, the pinnacle of jazz ambition at the time. “All America was dancing,” Hines said, and for the next 12 years and through the worst of the Great Depression, Hines’s band was essentially the house orchestra at the Grand Terrace. (The Grand Terrace moved in 1937 to 315 east 35th, the site of the former Sunset Cafe’). The Hines Orchestra – or “organization,” as Hines referred to it – did three shows a night at the Grand Terrace, four shows every Saturday and sometimes Sundays. According to Stanley Dance, a Hines and Ellington expert, “Earl Hines and The Grand Terrace were to Chicago what Duke Ellington and The Cotton Club were to New York – but fireier.”
The Grand Terrace was controlled by the gangster Al Capone(2). Capone addressed Hines as “Mr. Piano Man.” Capone respected Hines’s musical ability. The Grand Terrace initially had an upright piano that was soon replaced with a white $3,000 Bechstein grand. Talking about those days Hines later said:
“… Al [Capone] came in there one night and called the whole band and show together and said, ‘Now we want to let you know our position. We want you people just to attend to your own business. We’ll give you all the protection in the world, but we want you to be like the 3 monkeys: you hear nothing and you see nothing and you say nothing.’ And that’s what we did. I used to hear many of the things that they were going to do but I never did tell anyone. Sometimes the police used to come in … looking for a fall guy and say, ‘Earl what were they talking about?’ … but I said, ‘I don’t know – no, you’re not going to pin that on me,’ because they had a habit of putting the pictures of different people that would bring information in the newspaper and the next day you would find them out there in the lake somewhere swimming around with some chains attached to their feet if you know what I mean.”
From the Grand Terrace, Hines and his band broadcast over many years through the mid and late 1930s and into 1940, sometimes seven nights a week, coast-to-coast across America – Chicago being well placed to deal with live broadcasting across time zones in the United States. The Hines band became one of the most broadcast bands in America. Among the listeners were a young Nat King Cole in Chicago, and Jay McShann in Kansas City, who said his “real education came from Earl Hines. When ‘Fatha’ went off the air, I went to bed.”
The Grand Terrace, as one can surmise with Al Capone as its operator, was seriously mobbed-up. Performers did not come and go freely from engagements at the Grand Terrace like they did from other venues. Whenever they left, it was with permission. That allowed the Hines band to tour on a limited basis. But they were always subject to being recalled to the Grand Terrace. In essence, Hines and his musicians were being held in a condition of indentured servitude, with the period of servitude having no end.
Hines toured with his band for various periods of time, including (in the early 1930s) through the South – the first black big band to do so. He explained, “[when] we traveled by train through the South, they would send a porter back to our car to let us know when the dining car was cleared, and then we would all go in together. We couldn’t eat when we wanted to. We had to eat when they were ready for us.”
In Duke Ellington‘s America, Harvey G. Cohen wrote:
In 1931, Earl Hines and his Orchestra “were the first big Negro band to travel extensively through the South”. Hines referred to it as an ‘invasion’ rather than a ‘tour.’ Between a bomb exploding under their bandstand in Alabama (‘ …none of us got hurt but we didn’t play so well after that either’) and numerous threatening encounters with the police, the experience proved so harrowing that Hines in the 1960s recalled that, ‘You could call us the first Freedom Riders.’ For the most part, any contact with whites, even fans, was viewed as dangerous. Finding places to eat or stay overnight entailed a constant struggle.’ The only non-musical ‘victory’ that Hines claimed was winning the respect of a clothing-store owner who initially treated him with derision until it became clear that Hines planned to spend $85 on shirts, ‘which changed his whole attitude’.”
Despite the generosity and “protection” afforded the Hines band by their bosses at the Grand Terrace all through the Depression-ridden 1930s, Hines was not free to begin a career independent of the Grand Terrace. He was kept there under a personal contract with Ed Fox, the club’s manager and a Capone henchman. Eventually, Hines broke that contract as the result of litigation with Fox in late 1940. The Grand Terrace then closed suddenly in December 1940, with Ed Fox disappearing. Hines then reorganized a band and took it on on the road full-time for the next eight years, achieving great success.(3)
The music: Although Earl Hines was confined physically to the Grand Terrace in Chicago for a dozen years, he was in no way creatively confined. In fact, his mobster bosses supported his musical growth and experimentation. They loved hot music. Hines’s band in 1939 was musically in synch with what was going on in the swing era. And Hines’s dynamic piano set the swinging tone for the band. Playing music arranged by band members Budd Johnson, Jimmy Mundy, Franz Jackson, and Bob Crowder, as well as outsiders Horace Henderson, Edgar Battle, Eddie Durham and Bingie Madison, the Hines band was totally acquainted with the musical vocabulary of the swing era. There was also no shortage of swinging soloists. In fact, almost everyone in the 1939 Hines band was a capable soloist, with tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, trumpeters Walter Fuller and Ed Simms, alto saxist George Dixon, and drummer Alvin Burroughs being standouts.
“G.T. Stomp” was “primarily a head arrangement that Hines worked up to accompany the fast-stepping chorus line at the Grand Terrace. ‘We cooked up that last chorus to get the girls off the floor and up the stairs at either side of the bandstand. All that brass behind them really made them jump.It was also written to show off my band. Then when we recorded it, it became so popular that we used it to battle other bands, like at the Savoy Ballroom (in Harlem). We did it at the Oriental Theater in Chicago when we battled Clyde McCoy. He had that very popular trumpet number (‘Sugar Blues’), but we had such a heavy swing band that we just upset the theater.'” (4)
Hines’s romping piano starts off this performance. Note how he uses a bit of stride in this introductory sequence. The saxophones follow him and start to riff with a trombone bell-tone and brass punctuations heightening their rhythmic intensity. Then the Fatha steps in. The stride is gone, and we hear a master jazz pianist in the swing idiom at work. Hines’s playing is not only brilliant, it is jubilant.Toward the end of his solo, Earl strides strongly into the stop-time tutti, played against drummer Alvin Burroughs’s swinging high-hat brushwork.
The contrasting 16-bar trumpet solos come next, and maintain the high voltage rhythm that permeates this performance. First up is Ed Simms, playing with a buzzing straight mute, followed by Walter Fuller’s open horn. Note the superb support these soloists receive from Alvin Burroughs. The next sequence has the band riffing a bit and gradually reducing the dynamic level of the music in preparation for the volcanic finale.
The climax comes as the low trombones riff against the saxophones, building rhythmic and dynamic momentum, leading to the four trumpets each adding a higher tone until lead trumpeter Ed Simms tops off the sonic pyramid with a titanic high E-flat.
Hines got the nickname “Fatha” when a bibulous NBC radio announcer at the Grand Terrace, Ted Pearson, introduced him one night on air as his band was playing their radio theme “Deep Forest” as follows: “Here comes Fatha Hines leading his children through the ‘Deep Forest’.” The “Fatha” nickname quickly caught on. Soon, a bit of business was developed and used on all Hines broadcasts: “a voice calls Fatha Hines! …Fatha!!! A distant reply, …Yeeeess? Applause rises as the announcer intones: ‘Yes it is ladies and gentlemen—Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, and his great band, playing for you from the Grand Terrace on the south side of Chicago!’” (5)
As a post script, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington had a mutual admiration society relationship. On an occasion when unknown to each other, they were staying in the same hotel, Ellington was waiting for an elevator. As the elevator door opened, Hines emerged. Duke exclaimed “Fatha”! Without missing a beat, Hines exclaimed in reply “Motha”!
(1) Mel Powell was a gifted arranger in addition to being a fine pianist. In 1941, while he was a sideman in Benny Goodman’s band, he wrote an original composition dedicated to Earl Hines called “The Earl,” which BG recorded.
(2) The second (from 1937) Grand Terrace location at 315 East 35th was owned by the Glaser family. Their son, Joe, who was involved in Chicago gangland activities and was jailed for a period of time, became Louis Armstrong’s manager in 1935. The Grand Terrace was operated by Al Capone, with Ed Fox being the club’s manager.
(3) Some of this material comes from the Wikipedia article on Earl Hines, which is good but not entirely accurate. The best source of information about Earl Hines is The World of Earl Hines by Stanley Dance (1977).
(4) Giants of Jazz – Earl Hines, Time-Life Books (1980), notes on the music by Stanley Dance, 42.
(5) The Swing Era—Encore!, Time-Life Books (1971), 38.
The recording used in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.