Chico Hamilton

HAMILTONChico Hamilton’s drumming with the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet and his own small groups helped introduce many young listeners to jazz in the 1950s. His death last week in New York brought a reaction from Don Conner that may strike a chord with other Rifftides readers.

R.I.P.Chico Hamilton! Chico died recently at 92. This was meaningful to me as Chico’s group was the first live band I’d ever heard. I was 18 and L.A. was dark and mysterious. I was in the military. Needless to say, my naiveté was off the charts. I had never heard of Chico or his sidemen, whom I later found out consisted of Buddy Collete on reeds, Fred Katz on cello and probably jim Hall on guitar. Ah a little history and nostalgia.

Hamilton’s popularity, already high, broadened in 1958 after Bert Stern captured his quintet at the Newport Jazz Festival as part of the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. In this edition of the band, Hamilton’s sidemen were Eric Dolphy, flute; John Pisano, guitar; Nat Gershman, cello; and Hal Gaylor, bass. In Buddy Collette’s composition “Blue Sands,” the main feature is Hamilton’s skill with mallets.

In addition to providing early exposure for Dolphy and guitaritsts Jim Hall, Larry Coryell and Gabor Szabo, Hamilton’s quintets were launching pads for bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Charles Lloyd, among other developing jazz artists. Hamilton worked steadily, as well as teaching at New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He recorded his last album, Revelation, in 2011.

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  1. David says

    I only saw Chico once, in the ‘70s. He’s been praised for delicate brush and mallet work, but the visual impression was of a large fierce man towering over a defenseless drum set. Part of this was due to the way he kept his cymbals set low so that, instead of reaching up, he would just sort of lean into them. I was surprised to discover that Chico was also a blues singer.

    Chico played on so many great albums that it would be silly to try to choose a “best” – but my favorite might be “Reunion.” This was recorded in 1989 by members of an early version of his Quintet: Collette, Katz, Pisano, & Smith, all in top form and clearly having a ball playing together again. Rather than revisit old material, they recorded ten new originals and one standard. Two selections were duets by Chico & Buddy and one is a group improvisation. There are two wistful, nostalgic tunes and the rest are playful and exuberant.

    I read somewhere that Chico left one last album in the can to be released next year.