Hines, Armstrong and Bechet: A conjoined pop song, and other thoughts about jazz.


I grew up listening to jazz and swing, and now that 40 years have passed, there are times when the brain waves become muddled.

As an example, there is a song called Save It Pretty Mama.

This musical digression begins at a random encounter with an entirely different song, Jersey Bounce. It popped up in the right-hand column on YouTube, as performed by Benny Goodman, presumably because I’d been searching for a song of Goodman’s that featured trumpeter Bunny Berigan.

When I saw Goodman’s Jersey Bounce, it immediately occurred to me that I’ve always liked a version performed by Earl “Fatha” Hines and His Orchestra, which I located. It was recorded in 1941, when the pianist was leading a big band, and appears at this post’s end.

However, by now I’d forgotten all about Berigan and began searching for information about Hines (1903-1983). Hines came to prominence while playing with Louis Armstrong during the latter’s revolutionary 1920s period — as an aside, if you know Armstrong only from his later period as beloved entertainer, it’s worth your time to dig into his earlier oeuvre, as here. The jazz trumpet had not been played this way previously.

Fatha Hines takes a solo, and in fact, he’s just as renowned for his innovative piano work with Armstrong during this period as the headliner himself with the trumpet. It’s epochal stuff, indeed.

The next song to pop into my head was Save it Pretty Mama. I knew that Armstrong’s recording with Hines was the version I knew best, because it was on a compilation LP from my youth. The song was recorded in 1928, and proved easy to find on YouTube.

So far, so good.

Now, what typically happens when a piece of music catches my attention is that after first hearing the song, it remains dormant for a period of hours before circling back to become part of the constant playlist playing constantly in my noggin.

This can be especially strange when I find myself whistling a forgettable pop song, only to realize I’d heard a snippet in the supermarket the day before.

So it went with Save It Pretty Mama, except the version I heard playing in my head a day later kept oddly morphing into something different, and I couldn’t determine why. I listened to the Armstrong version again. Why did my brain insist on playing a completely different ending?

And, wasn’t there a solo missing?

Finally the answer dawned on me. It’s because there was a completely different performance I still recall from my days of youthful jazz immersion, this one in 1941 by a group led by the master of the soprano saxophone, Sidney Bechet.

These two very different versions have one common element: The pianist in both of them is Earl Hines. Over time, they’d become fused together in my musical subconscious. I’ve separated them again, but by the time this happens again when I’m 90, who knows?

In closing, here is the Earl Hines recording of Jersey Bounce.

Currently I’m watching a 1975 documentary about Hines, and will report on it when finished. Meanwhile, you know that imaginary free house I mentioned last week? There’d be lots and lots of older jazz played there — hypothetically, of course.