Born on September 20, 1921 in Los Angeles, California, legendary jazz drummer and bandleader, Foreststorn "Chico" Hamilton, had a fast track musical education in a band with his schoolmates Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and Jack Kelso. Engagements with Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnett, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and six years with Lena Horne established this young West Coast prodigy as a jazz drummer on the rise, before striking out on his own as a bandleader in 1955.
Chico’s impact upon jazz includes the introduction of two unique and distinct sounds: first in 1955 with his Original Quintet which combined the sounds of his drums, the bass of Carson Smith, the guitar of Jim Hall, the cello of Fred Katz, and the flute of Buddy Collette; and the second in 1962 with his own drums, the bass of Albert Stinson, the guitar of Gabor Szabo, the tenor sax of Charles Lloyd, and the trombone of George Bohanon.
In 1997, Chico received the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Programs Beacons in Jazz Award in recognition for his "significant contribution to the evolution of Jazz". In 2002, Chico was awarded the WLIU-FM Radio Lifetime Achievement Award. At the IAJE in NYC January 2004, Hamilton was awarded a NEA Jazz Master Fellowship, presented to him by Roy Haynes. In December 2006, Congress confirmed the President’s nomination of Chico to the Presidents Council on the Arts. And in 2007, Chico received a Living Legacy Jazz Award as part of The Kennedy Centers Jazz in Our Time Festival, as well as receiving a Doctor of Fine Arts from The New School.
Dynamic as ever at the age of 89, Chico Hamilton has a resume that includes scores for film, original compositions, commercial jingles, 50 + albums as a leader, and countless international tours. In 2006, Chico released four CD’s on Joyous Shout! in celebration of his 85th birthday: Juniflip featuring guest appearances from- legendary Love front-man Arthur Lee, criminally under-rated vocalist (and successful actor) Bill Henderson, and former Hamilton band members trombonist George Bohanon and bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham; Believe with Special Guest appearances from vocalist and R & B Diva Fontella Bass and trombonist George Bohanon; 6th Avenue Romp featuring Special Guest appearances from guitarist Shuggie Otis, trumpeter Jon Faddis, trombonist George Bohanon, vocalist Brenna Bavis and percussionist Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers Band; and Heritage with Special Guest appearances from vocalist Marya Lawrence and tromboist George Bohanon. September 2007, Chico released "Hamiltonia" sampling his original compositions from the four albums released in 2006. Hamiltonia is an impassioned statement of purpose- an emphatic endorsement of writing and performing THIS music in the NOW, the way the GREATS did in their time, and confirms Hamilton's status as one of the most important living jazz artists and composers.
2008 saw four releases from Chico on Joyous Shout!, two EP’s and two previously unreleased recordings, each of which provide a different perspective on the Chico Hamilton experience. Paying homage to Chico's past, the It's About Time! EP revisits his first ever recording project as band leader/percussionist. In 1955, Chico recorded a trio album for Pacific Jazz with George Duvivier and Howard Roberts; fast-forward 53 years, and Chico has recast it with his long time collaborators Cary DeNigris on guitar and Paul Ramsey on bass. Chico's distinctive grooves have been rediscovered and refused on the The Alternate Dimensions of El Chico EP, a collection of dance/remix tracks and collaborative works with some of today's hottest turntablists including Fertile Ground, SoulFeast (Joe Claussell and Brian Michel Bacchus), Mark de Clive-Lowe, and Blaze. On Dreams Come True, recorded in 1993, NEA Jazz Masters Andrew Hill and Chico Hamilton deliver a masterpiece of modern improvised music. The two giants are repositories of the history of this music, and here they create a document containing more then is stored in all the history books, sharing and preserving ancient stories and traditions thru their mutual song. And Trio! Live at Artpark, recorded in 1994, documents a blazing performance from a power trio led by Hamilton, with guitarist Cary DeNigris and bassist Matthew Garrison — the son of the late Jimmy Garrison. Witness the remarkable synergy and energy between the three as Hamilton leads his steeds thru a series of originals and a heady romp on "Tickle Toe".
Over the years, Chico has had a series of dance floor successes, including his signature song "Conquistadors" from his 60's Impulse album El Chico, and the Brazilian influenced song "Strut" from Chico's 1979 outing on Elektra Nomad, which became so successful on the Northern Soul Scene in the U.K. that it had its own dance!! "Conquistadors" also was the signature track for E-man when he rocked the dance floor at Frank's Cocktail Lounge in Brooklyn. In 2002 a track titled "For Mods Only" from Chico's 1968 Impulse album The Dealer, was included on the Thievery Corporations SOUNDS FROM THE VERVE HI-FI. Fall of 2005, Rong Music released the 12" vinyl "Kerry's Caravan" from Mudd & Chico Hamilton, a moody yet stunning slice of modern music and a molten melting pot ready made for filling the dance floor with remixes from long-term Idjut Boys collaborator and Fiasco imprint boss Ray Mang. The IMPULSIVE! Remix Project features Mark De Clive Lowe’s take on Chico’s classic 60s track "El Toro". OUT NOW is the limited edition 12" 180 gram vinyl from SoulFeast (Brian Michel Bacchus & Joaquin "Joe" Claussell) with their reworking of "Mysterious Maiden" from Chico's 1980 Nomad release, as well as the 12" double vinyl edition of The Alternate Dimensions of El Chico CD EP. Available thru www.dopejams.net.
April 14th, 2009 Chico HITS with TWELVE TONES OF LOVE on Joyous Shout!. From Maxwell Chandler's liner notes: "Chico Hamilton looks back not as a summation but with the past as a jumping off point to where he is now; the foundation to build off of what he has to say in the here and now. This album has Chico writing for and playing with an enlarged ensemble, offering us a glimpse of his life’s journey and some of those he has shared it with. It speaks greatly of all the musicians’ skills that they are performing Chico’s compositions yet their interplay becomes another color on his palette, which allows him to further embellish the picture he is painting. This is one of the appealing aspects to all of Chico’s music, an always-organic sense of tension and release. Guest spots include trombonist George Bohanon, who was in one of Chico’s classic sixties ensembles; vocalist Jose James, who studied under Chico at The New School’s Jazz and Contemporary Music program; and multi-reedist Jack Kelso, Chico’s lifelong friend. This album is a celebration of a lifelong romance Chico has had with music and the relationships that came into his life both past and present through his service to the muse. Those who forge their own way may travel a harder road but their art loses none of its power with the passage of time because of these trials. TWELVE TONES OF LOVE is proof of that aphorism to continuously enjoy."
On September 27, 2011, marking the legendary drummer/bandleader's 90th birthday (September 20th), Chico released a 22-track CD entitled, Revelation — a visceral journey that oscillates from a melodic point of view to a rhythmic one and is bookended by Chico on drum kit. Works include: the up-tempo Latin groove of "Evanly", funk of "Black Eyed Peas", Lunceford-like band vocals on "Stompin @ The Savoy"; the mid tempo swing of "No Way LA", and the pastoral melodic beauty of "You're Not Alone," to name a few.
Chico Hamilton 90th Birthday Celebration & Revelation CD Release Show Series
The sage drummer/bandleader and NEA Jazz Master Foreststorn "Chico" Hamilton celebrates his 90th birthday without any hesitation. This jazz legend just released a new album "Revelation" (Joyous Shout 9/27/11) and premieres tracks off it at a monthly concert series at DROM from October - December. A testament to his strength as a bandleader, Chico assembled talent both young and old: Paul Ramsey on bass; Nick Demopoulos on guitar; Evan Schwam on flute & reeds; Mayu Saeki on flute; and Jeremy Carlstedt on drums and percussion.
Saluted by the Kennedy Center as a "Living Jazz Legend", and appointed to the National Council on the Arts, Chico is considered one of the most important living jazz artists and composers. Chico has a resume that includes scores for film, original compositions, commercial jingles, 60+ albums as a leader, and countless international tours. Born in Los Angeles, Chico had a fast track musical education in a band with his schoolmates Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and Jack Kelso. Engagements with Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnett, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and six years with Lena Horne established this young West Coast prodigy as a jazz drummer on the rise, before striking out on his own as a bandleader in 1955. Over the next several years, Chico would become instrumental in developing the West Coast's cool jazz sound. Some of the varying awards bestowed on him over his lifetime include: the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program's Beacons in Jazz Award; the WLIU-FM Radio Lifetime Achievement Award; a NEA Jazz Master Fellowship, presented to him by Roy Haynes.
Chico Hamilton died of unknown causes on Monday, November 25, 2013 in New York; he was 92. Chico had been teaching at New School University Jazz Program; touring extensively in North America with "Euphoria" group which includes Nick Demopoulos on guitar, Paul Ramsey on bass, Evan Schwam on flute, tenor and soprano saxes and Jeremy Carlstedt on percussion; recording with his "Euphoria" group and special guests; composing and performing music for film; and working on autobiography.
As a 19-year-old, Chico Hamilton had his first brush with Hollywood, featured in a scene with tapdancing Fred Astaire for the 1941 movie You'll Never Get Rich.
The Chico Hamilton Quintet featured cello, guitar and flute — a sound which was later called "chamber jazz." The group made such a name for itself that it was featured in the 1957 film The Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Hamilton even had a small speaking part himself.
Listen to this very extensive, lovingly produced obituary on Chico Hamilton from All Things Considered on NPR.