Those that know me, should know that I have a great love of jazz; especially percussion driven works from the 1940’s through to the late-60’s.
Its driving precision often held a sort of manic fluidity in check; like sheer madness surrounding a column of calm. As one of my favourite musicians of all time, Chico Hamilton was that calm.
Hamilton was born in Los Angeles of 1921 and although his drumming provided something of a high-wire stability in numerous bands during his early years, he would not find his feet as a band leader in his own right until 1955.
Until that point, he had been an associate of the likes of Charles Mingus, Buddy Collette, Dexter Gordon, while also enjoying spells performing with Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr.
There was even a turn as the drummer for Fred Astaire’s backing group in the film You’ll Never Get Rich in the early-40’s.
When the Chico Hamilton Quintet did formulate, it came to a somewhat unusual format. Rather than being brass led – as many jazz bands at the time were – Hamilton created a group that contained cello, flute, double-bass and guitar; however there was rarely a lead. Often on albums, lead instruments would alter per song and in some cases would flirt from player to player.
The line-up, devoid of sharp sounding instruments help give birth to west coast jazz, also know as “cool jazz” and in this time, Hamilton produced some of the finest jazz albums ever recorded.
It would be a period that spawned long players such as The Chico Hamilton Quintet featuring Buddy Collette (1955), Truth featuring Eric Dolphy (1959) and the truly magnificent El Chico (1966). A series of fabulous albums was topped off by The Dealer (also 1966), released on Impulse Recordings.
There were a number of fine recordings in those years, but rarely is that collection of four ever topped.
In the 60’s, the formula of Hamilton’s band altered somewhat and began to assume more of a hard bop and avant-garde feel. This was aided by the addition of Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo, Arnie Lawrence, Albert Stinson, Richard Davis, Archie Shepp and George Bohanon to his band at various points.
Following the this period, Hamilton began a film production company, where upon he scored numerous movies; including Litho, Repulsions, By Design, Mr Rico and Liebe Auf Den Ersten Blick amongst others.
Nowadays the 89-year-old Hamilton still lives in Los Angeles and continues to record and perform when the opportunity arises. His 61st album, Twelve Tones of Love was release last year.
This week Something for the Weekend goes back to the début long player to uncover one of the best tracks from The Chico Hamilton Quintet, “Blue Sands”.
The version shown here is taken from a performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and displays some of the sublime precision that only the likes of Hamilton could create.