Fatha on the Guv’na

Jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines had a little to say with this oddball single, released during the California gubernatorial campaign of 1966. His parody of “Mack the Knife,” a jazz standard taken from The Threepenny Opera, responds to the candidacy of Ronald Reagan, who at the time promised to “get the welfare bums back to work, and to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” (in the Gipper’s own words).

Hines speculated on the effects of Reagan’s budget proposals, which in fact did freeze and then cut funding to both the University of California, and Medi-Cal, the state’s medical assistance program. The flip side was an instrumental (“The Medi-Cal Blues”).

DSC06750Earl “Fatha” Hines was sixty-three the year he cast his vote for Governor Pat Brown, and had only recently come out of a lengthy retirement from jazz, during which he ran a tobacco shop in Oakland. Just a couple years earlier his friend and oftentimes manager, jazz writer Stanley Dance, had pushed the pianist to perform again, leading to a surge of recordings in the mid-60s which were highly praised by jazz critics all over the country (Downbeat named him the “#1 jazz pianist” in 1966 — the first of six times he would receive their venerated award). Dance is one of our favorite writers, and we last referred to his amazing contributions to the history of jazz in this post about Johnny Hodges pet monkey, Shuma. For his part “Fatha” became an essential link between early jazz and it’s modern children, performing with musicians from several generations extensively until he passed away in 1983 at the age of seventy-nine.

Highlights from Hines’ post-retirement career include a session of duets with Jaki Byard which is one of the most interesting explorations of jazz piano ever recorded, and a fun appearance on Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch where the two perform Blind Blake’s “Ditty wa Ditty” [sic]. Hines’ other duets from this period include duets with Marian MacPartland, Oscar Peterson and Teddy Wilson. He also joined legendary bassists Charles Mingus and Richard Davis, drummer Elvin Jones and singers Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington on sessions in his seventies. “Fatha” was so important to the history of jazz that no less an authority than Count Basie called him “the greatest piano player in the world.”

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