An Evening With Earl Hines
Chiaroscuro CR (D) 116/169

Live at the Roosevelt Grill with Vic Dickenson Volume IV
Chiaroscuro CR (D) 179

Traditional jazz fans who complain that the music loses much of its excitement and gaiety when it moves from free-wheeling clubs to sterile concert halls, should listen to these two album recorded live in the 1970s.

Especially note how the intimate stylings of cornetist Bobby Hackett and his crew are nearly submerged beneath the incessant din of conversation in New York’s Roosevelt Grill. Hackett (1915-1976), whose reputation was made as a Bix Beiderbecke heir in the 1930s and 1940s, was probably known to this crowd for his contributions to comedian Jackie Gleason’s series of mood music LPs. The audience listens to these 16 short selections exactly the same way they would have treated MOR radio — as pleasant background music and as occasional irritant to merry making.

Earl Hines’ two-CD set fares much better for a variety of reasons. For a start, the audience in Syracuse, N.Y.’s Dinkler’s Motor Inn [!] probably wasn’t as used to seeing jazz stars of the magnitude of Hines as were the jaded business types in Manhattan. That means a good proportion of the pianist’s fans — and listeners — were in attendance. Secondly Hines (1905-1989), was a veteran entertainer, famous for his practically superhuman keyboard prowess from the late 1920s onwards. A show biz realist, he knew enough about the rules of the game to constantly vary and freshen his repertoire and made it a point to communicate with his audience.

Thus, while Hackett throws in some perfunctory readings of then-contemporary pieces like “Mister Lucky” and “The Girl From Ipanema”, the response from the audiences isn’t much different than when the band does yet another run-through of “Manhattan” or Love Is Just Around The Corner”. Second billed trombonist Vic Dickenson, who gained fame in the bands of Claude Hopkins and Count Basie, seems only intermittently present with only a couple of brief features. Plus the four bonus tracks are introduced by guitarist/raconteur Eddie Condon, whose linkage of mainstream jazz, Italian food and mammoth amounts of booze probably weakened the music’s ability to be taken seriously a lot more than the rise of rock’n’roll.

Throughout, you never forget the boorish audience as Hackett and his talented but underutilized crew run through the pieces as if by rote. As the title states, this is the fourth CD taken from this one date, perhaps enough is enough.

Happily, Hines and band fare better. Not only do these two CDs offer up more than 2½ hours of powerful, almost unclassifiable Swing music on tunes dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, but the band was also an unusual combo configuration for the pianist. Instead of a saxophonist, guitarist Tiny Grimes, who had been part of pianist Art Tatum’s trio and led a jump band called The Rocking Highlanders in the 1940s joins Hines for a one-time-only appearance.

Grimes shows off his tender, balladic side to great effect on “Here’s That Rainy Day/Polka Dots And Moonbeams”, with cascading guitar lines framed by sympathetic trio accompaniment — and you don’t hear too many glasses clinking or a conversational buzz when he’s playing. Alternately, he and Hines have a great time speeding through classic rhythm tunes like “Lil Darlin’” and “Lester Leaps In.” There also wasn’t much these two didn’t know about the blues changes as they show on pieces like “James Street Blues” and “Dinkler Boogie”.

There’s also plenty of room for the pianist to show off his phenomenal technique of such showpieces as “Boogie Woogie On The St. Louis Blues” with its many themes running simultaneously, often with different tunes arising from either hand, and the effortless swing/stride of “Second Balcony Jump”. Hines even tries out, and tames to his own purposes, a Latin groove on “La Rosita”, while Grimes, with some surprisingly funky double timed runs, turns, of all things, Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” into a showpiece — complete with wah-wah pedal. Steady timekeepers, electric bassist Hank Young and drummer Bert Dahlander don’t set any fires, but they’re also smart enough to stay out of the way once the main Hines show starts exploding all over the keyboard.

Not everything stands the test of time, however. Like those soppy musical interludes in otherwise anarchistic Marx Brothers’ movies, vocals slow down the pace here. Marva Josie handles her ballads with supper club finesse, while the pianist’s vocal forays are more in the master of ceremonies vein, designed to make the audience happy and informed than anything else.

Next time someone starts bitching about how much better jazz can sound in a club, agree with him (or her), but only up to a point. With a major musician like Hines his force of personality and exceptional keyboard command could turn any spot — no matter how noisy — into a recital hall. But when a more fragile figure like Hackett brought trite, overplayed material to an indifferent, noisy crowd, a concert setting may at least have given him courage to play more than he does here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Evening: Disc #1: 1. Perdido 2. Boogie Woogie On The St. Louis Blues 3. I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good 4. All Of Me 5. Things Ain’t What They Used To Be 6. Lil Darlin' 7. James Street Blues 8. Prelude To A Kiss 9. Closing 10. My Ship 11. La Rosita 12. Here's That Rainy Day/Polka Dots And Moonbeams 13. Lester Leaps In 14. Who Disc #2: 15. I Ain’t Got Nobody 16. Marie 17. Dinkler Boogie 18. I Wish You Love 19. Second Balcony Jump 20. Shiny Stockings 21. Showboat Medley 22. Watermelon Man 23. Time On My Hands 24. Memories Of You 25. Street Of Dreams/It's A Pity To Say Goodnight

Personnel: Evening: Earl Hines (piano, vocals); Tiny Grimes (guitar); Hank Young (electric bass); Bert Dahlander (drums); Marva Josie (vocals)

Track Listing: Roosevelt: 1. You Stepped Out Of A Dream 2. I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good 3. Take The ‘A’ Train 4. Mister Lucky 5. Stompin’ At The Savoy 6. Love Is Just Around The Corner 7. Sunday 8. The Girl From Ipanema 9. Our Love Is Here To Stay 10. Manha De Carnaval 11. Autumn In New York 12. Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week 13. I Left My Heart in San Francisco 14. Manhattan 15. Keeping Out of Mischief 16. I Thought About You

Personnel: Roosevelt: Bobby Hackett, (cornet); Vic Dickenson (trombone); Dave McKenna (piano); Jack Lesberg (bass); Cliff Leeman (drums)