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The Gift of Music
Jazz Legend's Piano Benefits Music Outreach Program

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted February 17, 1999

Photo: Earl

The late Earl "Fatha" Hines with his prized 1904 Steinway grand piano.

In 1969, an extremely rare, antique piano was given to jazz legend Earl "Fatha" Hines at a gala San Francisco event honoring his musical contributions.Thirty years later, the remarkable instrument is in the spotlight once again, this time to support the highly successful Young Musicians Program, a campus outreach program for musically talented low-income youth.

Hines, who died in 1983 at age 78, helped pioneer modern jazz in the 1920s, and his music influenced some of the 20th century's greatest artists. He was a major innovator in the development of jazz piano and helped introduce and popularize big band, swing and bebop music. With a keen eye for young talent, he directly influenced the careers of jazz greats Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein and Dizzy Gillespie. His 60-year career included legendary collaborations with Louis Armstrong and performances for presidents, queens and dignitaries the world over.

One of the greatest highlights of Hines' life was the gift of an ornate, one-of-a-kind, 1904 Steinway grand piano from jazz aficionado Scott Newhall, former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. The piano was featured in some of Hines' private recordings and held a place of honor in his Oakland home until his death.

To fulfill Hines' final wishes, executors of his estate decided to auction the piano to raise money for the Young Musicians Program.

"Hines specified in his will that a portion of his assets be used to further the music education of African American children," said Olly Wilson, professor of music and co-administrator of the estate. Hines had a profound interest in nurturing young talent, according to Wilson. He served as a Regents' lecturer at the music department in the late 1970s, teaching classes on his music and career.

On Oct. 25, the piano will be auctioned by Christie's at a star-studded tribute and gala. Wilson believes the instrument could fetch up to $1 million. Proceeds from the auction will help secure the future of the music program.

The Young Musicians Program provides a comprehensive music education for 70 exceptionally gifted junior high and high school students from low-income circumstances. Participants receive year-round private instruction and attend an intensive seven-week summer session on campus. The full scholarship program allows students to study with professional musicians, including symphony members and university faculty. Program alumni include such luminaries as saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Benny Green and Will Kennedy, the Grammy Award-winning drummer for the Yellowjackets.

"If the program is to survive into the next century, it is imperative that we increase and stabilize our financial support," said Marsha Jaeger, program director. "The auction of Hines' piano will help fund an endowment for scholarships, allowing us to continue the discovery and development of musically-gifted youngsters."

The mint-condition piano, custom-made at the turn of the century for Leander Clay, co-founder of San Francisco's Sherman and Clay piano company, features a unique structural design, intricate baroque-style wood carvings inlaid with gold, lyre-shaped pedals and a sculpted music holder.

While the piano is extremely valuable in its own right, it has special significance because of its connection to Hines.

"Hines was an original," said Billy Taylor, world-renowned jazz pianist and director of the CBS Sunday Morning jazz segment and National Public Radio's "Live From Kennedy Center." "Hines is to piano what Louis Armstrong is to trumpet."

Taylor will serve as master-of-ceremonies when Hines' piano is auctioned off this fall in San Francisco's Sheraton Palace, where Hines first received the piano some 30 years ago. Conceived as a glamorous Academy Awards-style gala, the Earl "Fatha" Hines Tribute and Gala Auction will begin with a champagne reception and silent auction, followed by a gourmet dinner. The evening will feature live entertainment by some of today's most acclaimed jazz pianists, culminating with a live auction by Christie's -- with Hines' piano as the centerpiece.


February 17 - 23, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 23)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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