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Zildjian News | Chico Hamilton Passes lg

Chico Hamilton Passes at 92

Continuing to perform till the end with an album scheduled for release in 2014

The Zildjian Company joins the Drumming Community in mourning the loss of long time Artist, Chico Hamilton. Hamilton had performed with such legendary musicians as Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. Chico was also a teacher and co-founder of the The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City.

Born Foreststorn Hamilton in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1921, Chico wasn’t sure how he got his nick name, but thought he acquired it as a teenager because “I was always a small dude”. {Marc Myers,  JazzWax website}.

He is credited with helping to put California on the modern-jazz map and remained an active drummer his entire life. Slowed by age, he continued to perform and record beyond his 90th birthday, releasing an album, “Revelation,” in 2011, and recently completed another, “Inquiring Minds,” scheduled for release in 2014. Until late last year he was appearing at Manhattan nightclubs with Euphoria, the group he had led since 1989.

While in high school he immersed himself in the local jazz scene, and throughout the 1940’s toured with Lionel Hampton’s big band and worked with Jimmy Mundy, Charlie Barnet, Count Basie and Lena Horne.

Chico made a name for himself in the 1950’s as a drummer, and took the bold step of becoming a bandleader and composer. His quiet intensity and the orchestrations of his band helped to form the smooth Los Angeles modern-jazz style. His subtle and melodic approach made him ideally suited for the understated style that came to be known as cool jazz. His own quintet, which he formed shortly after leaving baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s quartet, came to be regarded as the quintessence of cool. The group  appeared in movies, and was featured in the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success,” with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, as well as “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,”  the documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He also he wrote the music for Roman Polanski’s 1965 film, “Repulsion”, and formed a company that provided music for television shows and commercials.

Mr. Hamilton was highly regarded not just for his drumming, but also as a talent scout. Musicians who passed through his group before achieving stardom on their own include the bassist Ron Carter, the saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Charles Lloyd and the guitarists Jim Hall, Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell.

In 1986 Chico co-founded The New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music, and taught the lessons he had learned as a bandleader for more than two decades as a faculty member there.  He was praised for teaching “how to work on the bandstand, how you dress onstage, how you carry yourself in public, and mostly for “leaving your ego at the door”. Teaching young musicians, he told The Providence Journal in Rhode Island in 2006, was “not difficult if they realize how fortunate they are.” “But,” he added, “if they’re on an ego trip, that’s their problem.”

Throughout his career, he recorded for a variety of labels, including Pacific Jazz, Impulse, Columbia and Soul Note. Among the honors he received were a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2004 and a Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend Award in 2007.

Chico passed away in Manhattan at the age of 92, but from Los Angeles to NYC, his musical style and the influence he left on so many musicians, as a drummer, bandleader, composer and teacher, will continue to live on.

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