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“Hamilton … [is]one of the most underrated and possibly influential jazz percussionists of recent times. Rather than keeping up with any of the Joneses, he sustains a highly original idiom which is retrospectively reminiscent of Paul Motian's but is altogether more abstract. “
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
Chico Hamilton has always done things in Jazz in a different manner.
It starts with the way he plays drums.
His approach to the instrument is so loose that it almost sounds sloppy. He prefers brushes and mallets to sticks. For most drummers it is usually the other way around.
His cymbal beat is barely discernible; he only just steps on the hi-hat to emphasize the 2nd and 4th beats; his bass drum sounds like a hollow 55 gallon vat when he strikes it with the bass drum pedal.
And then there are the different configurations of his Jazz groups beginning with his famous quintet that was comprised of a woodwind player who doubled on flute, clarinet and alto/tenor sax, a guitarist, a cellist [!], bassist and Chico.
A few years later he got a bit more conventional, but only just, with a quintet comprised of a tenor saxophonist who doubled on flute, trombone, guitar, bass and drums.
As Richard Cook and Brian Morton note in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:
“A less celebrated drum-led academy than Art Blakey's, and yet Chico Hamilton has always surrounded himself with gifted young musicians and has helped bring forward players as inventive as Eric Dolphy, Larry Coryell, Charles Lloyd and, much later, Eric Person as well.
Hamilton has always taken an inventive and even idiosyncratic approach to the constitution of his groups, and often the only identifying mark is his own rolling lyricism and unceasing swing.
Anyone who has seen the classic festival movie, Jazz On A Summer's Day, will remember the almost hypnotic concentration of his mallet solo.”
After a long stint with Pacific Jazz Records, Chico joined Reprise Records in 1961.
His first album for that label was unsurprisingly entitled - A Different Journey [R-6078]. The quintet at the time consisted of Charles Lloyd on tenor sax and flute, George Bohanon on trombone, Gabor Szabo on guitar, Albert Stinson on bass and Chico on drums.
Their set closer was entitled Island Blues and you can hear it on the following video. The 12-bar blues theme doesn’t kick-in until 1:20 minutes. In performance, the group extended the theme while Chico introduced the band members and made some comments to the audience.
Charles Lloyd and Gabor Szabo would go on to lead their own groups; George Bohanon became a member of the Jazz Crusaders and then led a very successful career as a studio musician; Chico is still going strong today in both conventional and unconventional Jazz settings.
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