Hampton Hawes received a glowing write-up in Down Beat at the close of the year.
IN THE SUMMER of 1953 Hampton Hawes was regarded by many modern jazz musicians working around Los Angeles as a definite comer. His great piano talent had first captured local attention as a result of his performance at a Pasadena “Just Jazz” concert presented by Gene Norman in 1951 when Hamp was 22. He had behind him then eight months with the Howard McGhee band which had included the late Charlie Parker, and he had absorbed much of Bird’s concepts and learned to experiment with meter and harmonies in the Parker manner.
As a direct consequence of that Pasadena concert. Shorty Rogers in January 1952 used Hamp on the first “Giants” date for Capitol. An introduction followed to Howard Rumsey, and Hamp joined the Lighthouse band at Hermosa Beach. For about 18 months Hamp worked with Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, a proving ground for many of today’s noted west coast jazzmen.
But just when he was beginning to make a name for himself, Uncle Sam intervened. Hamp was inducted. After 2% years of service, he returned to form his trio and was booked into what he now considers “the most important jazz spot in L. A. —the Haig.”
FROM THE MOMENT the Hampton Hawes trio debuted there, his prospects began to brighten. Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records had heard him and, recognizing a remarkable talent, immediately signed him to cut a series of LPs. That first 12″ record, now released, is the culmination of 10 years’ hard practice and musical maturation for Hampton Hawes and is bringing him the recognition for which he’s waited so long. Where does artistic creation begin? In Hamp’s case it began with his clergyman father’s church choir. “When I was quite little, I would listen to the spirituals they sang,” he recalls. “The harmonies were so close to the blues . . . Then when I got home, I remember trying to pick out the same sounds on the piano and imitate my sister as best I could. I guess I wanted to play piano real bad.”
He entered Los Angeles Polytechnic high school in the early ’40s and started playing professionally, though he was still a schoolboy. When he was 16, he persuaded his father to okay his application for membership in the AFM. Hawes has two favorite instrumentalists on piano, Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson. “I’ve never met Powell, you know. Just heard him on records. But you can appreciate a man’s work on records, and I consider Bud to be the greatest modern piano man I’ve heard. He phrases about the best of all. And he was the first pianist I ever heard playing modern. There are some things on his records I don’t like, however—he’s erratic very often, not consistent. But when he’s straight, there’s nobody can touch him. He gets to sound like a horn.” “Oscar is a very good friend of mine,” he continued. “He’s in a class with the greats. Oscar plays more of a fluent style, like Tatum, and there are certain definite characteristics that stand out in his playing. For example, he will state a theme more or less straight—then bam! He’s off to the races. I guess that’s something I like to do, too, when I play: make the theme clear to the audience first and then you’re off.”
Hamp doesn’t consider he has been influenced nearly so much by modern piano men as by Charlie Parker. “That man was a genius,” he states fervently. “He couldn’t help the way he was in his personal life. He had too many problems clawing at his soul. He gave to modern music something that no one else could, and I don’t think the great blow of his loss is fully appreciated even yet.” Getting onto the subject of Dave Brubeck, Hamp thoughtfully explained, “His feeling about modern seems to be different from most, a bit more scientific. Personally, I feel that you can’t be too scientific about music. You’ve got to feel it in your soul always. I don’t say that Dave doesn’t feel his music. I’m sure he does—very deeply, or he wouldn’t play as well as he does.” Says Hamp, “There’s a lot of discussion now about the influence of classical concepts in jazz. Johnny Graas’ symphony is one case in point. Also much of the writing of Jack Montrose and Jimmy Giuffre. There’s a similarity among the three—and Shorty’s writing, too. But I think Jimmy and Shorty swing more, both in their writing and playing. Giuffre stresses swinging, and I noticed that particularly when I played with both him and Shorty. As a matter of fact, I believe that Jimmy was quite underrated when he played tenor with Shorty’s band.”
A telling moment’s hesitation before Hamp added, “Graas and Montrose are good friends of mine, but I’ve got to tell the truth about how I feel: My idea of jazz is a little different from theirs. My jazz has got to swing above all else. I don’t know what exactly they are striving for but personally I would rather listen to Miles or Bird.
“I love to listen to classical music. Frankly, I regard my music just as seriously as does the classical musician. But I have no desire to be influenced too much by classical concepts. Jazz is the music I feel in my soul and it’s always got to swing—hard.
“Jazz is more accepted today than at any time in its history” he, declared, “but to keep the public interested you’ve got to give the people variety. That’s why I’m all for experimental things like Giuffre’s Tangents in Jazz and works such as Graas’, though I may not always see eye to eye with them.”
The photos that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of Cynthia Sesso and the Howard Lucraft Collection. The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Howard Lucraft Collection. Please note that these photos remain the property of the Howard Lucraft Collection and are used here with permission. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES. The photos © by Dave Boyd are the property of Dave Boyd and used with permission.