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Chico Hamilton (1921-2013)

NEA Jazz Master and prolific drummer, Chico Hamilton, has passed away from natural causes at the age of 92.

Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and Sammy Davis Jr. are just a small sampling of the top artists that Hamilton played with but it was as a leader that he truly made his mark.

Born 1921, in Los Angeles, Hamilton started out on clarinet, forming a band in high school with the aforementioned Mingus and Gordon as well as Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Collette, Ernie Royal and Jack Kelso. It was during his time in the army (1942-46) that Hamilton began studying the drums under Jo Jones. After his release he toured with Basie and joined up with Lena Horne for six years starting in 1948.

The beginning of the 50s saw Hamilton as an in demand player backing many artists and co-leading a quartet with Mulligan in 1952. By the middle of the decade he began leading his own groups with the quintet as his preferred format.

Hamilton's bands served as incubators for many future jazz stars including Jim Hall, Eric Dolphy, Charles Lloyd, Ron Carter and others.

Hamilton formed a production company in 1965 after a move to New York and he began creating music for T.V. and film.

The 70s saw Hamilton continue to form bands and play at festivals around the world. In 1987 Hamilton was one of the first faculty members at the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program. The school would later go on to honour Hamilton twice, first in 1997 with the Beacons in Jazz Award and later being awarded an honourary doctorate in fine arts.

In 2004 Hamilton was names an NEA Jazz Master, he was appointed to the President's Council on the Arts in 2006 and was given a Living Legacy Jazz Award at the Kennedy Center in 2007.

Hamilton's final record was 2011's Revelation, recorded with Paul Ramsey on bass; Nick Demopoulos on guitar; Evan Schwam on flute & reeds; Mayu Saeki on flute; and Jeremy Carlstedt on drums and percussion.


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