As a big band music fan, budding jazz student, and fervent-if-untalented pianist, this 2-CD set is a real gem for me and one of the best CD's I own. It covers so much ground. First is the inimitable solo piano playing of Earl "Fatha" Hines. Where Art Tatum thrills and Bill Evans sparkles, Fatha is elegantly understated and sophisticated. He defines jazz piano to the point where sometimes he sounds like a player piano dusting through another 'rag', and at other times, he sounds like the whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking pianist at an off-the-alley dive where the singer forgot to show up but where the patrons come back because he always sounds good. He may be in the background, but he's always there, and demands to be listened to. Taking on Ellington is no small task, either. It took Hines over three years to put this set together under the guidance of Stanley Dance, and the attention to detail shows. Not all of these songs will be familiar to even the serious jazz enthusiast, but they all bring something different to the table, making them that much more enjoyable. The depth and dimension of song selection is nothing short of refreshing. On the technical side, the recording is very crisp and clean, and the liner notes (despite occasional errors) are chock full of facts and tidbits about Fatha, Ellington, and the recordings. You don't have to be anything but a fan of good music to enjoy this set, but for anyone interested in solo piano, jazz history, big band/Ellington music, and just plain old, nice sounding jazz, these CD's are unsurpassed pleasure. It makes the purchase of Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington, Vol. 2 very tempting, indeed.
And if you are looking for more jazz recordings with the incredible depth and sheer enjoyment that Stanley Dance's leadership provides, try The Stanley Dance Sessions. It's another winner.