for earl “fatha” hines
"If you see me up there on the stand smiling, I'm lost!"
u made the music long before they named it
one of its many “fathas” (tho’jellyroll claimed it);
when america in heat backed up to jim crow’s fence
& let the players get to her & de dip do bop, do it.
took a gig @ seventeen for fifteen bucks a week
played piano in der liederhaus to eat & earn yr keep.
that pittsburg club, yr music matrix, molded & begat
yr insouciant, exhuberant avante garde; yr cheek.
met satchmo in chicago, joined his band & played
on some of the most important records ever made.
1928 @ the grand terrace café, u were al capone’s
piano man, led yr own big band, had it made.
for eleven years u led that band, three shows a night
four shows each saturday, broadcast on open mikes
across the nation’s airways. mr. b made his debut
& a parade of greats followed ‘cause u did it right.
no less than j mcshann & young art tatum tuned u in,
did not nod or sleep ‘til u went off the air; took in
yr lightning octaves, steady left hand tenths, yr chords,
trills, two-fingered runs & glisses; yr soul pulse/vision.
& then u faded until ’64. perhaps u peaked too soon
but never did u play a melancholy note, a despairing tune.
perfervid pianist all the while, u broke out solo, to amaze
again those who forgot or never heard yr boon.
u showed us how to swing, create real jazz playing alone,
a whole orchestra by yrself. no one ever got yr style, none!
for nineteen years until u died, u were the daddy, first
on every poll, the real fatha of jazz piano, the only one.
© Joseph McNair;2010