Recorded in Los Angeles; June 28, 1955.
The first of pianist Hampton Hawes' long string of Contemporary recordings (which, as with most of his output for that label, has been reissued on CD by Original Jazz Classics) features him in his early prime in a trio with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson. In addition to three of his basic originals, Hawes performs fresh and swinging versions of seven standards, making such overplayed tunes such as "I Got Rhythm," "What Is This Thing Called Love?," and "All the Things You Are" really come alive. A gem, the first of many classic Hawes Contemporary dates.
All Music Guide
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Hampton Hawes is considered by many of the key West Coast modern jazzmen to be one of the best pianists playing today, yet he is almost unknown everywhere but Los Angeles. I first heard him early in 1933 at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. He was sitting in with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars during one of their Sunday marathon jazz concerts. A slender, sensitive young man, he was so completely absorbed in the piano and the music he was making that he never looked up, not even to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause. Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers were playing with him. The tune was All the Things You Are, and a performance of it with Hamp, Shelly and Shorty was issued on Vol. I of the Lighthouse Series (C3501). In that moment I was determined to record him for Contemporary, but unfortunately two years were to go by before it became possible. His career, which seemed about to skyrocket, was interrupted by a stretch in the Army, and it was not until the Spring of 1955 that he returned to Los Angeles, signed an exclusive recording contract, and we began to prepare the first of his long-playing albums.
One of the few native sons of the West Coast modern jazz movement, Hamp was born in Los Angeles November 13, 1928. His father was a preacher, and Hamp first became interested in music as a small boy going to his father's church and listening to the choir. As he recalls it, the choir sang spirituals close to the blues in their chord progressions, and the harmonies intrigued him more than the melodies. "1 tried to pick those chords out on the piano at home," he remembers. "My sister was studying to be a concert pianist, but she was ten years older than I, and since I was only about four, she figured I didn't really know anything. I used to listen to her play, and when she got up, I would go to the piano and try to do what she'd been doing." By the time Hamp was old enough to be taken seriously his sister, who became a music teacher, had married and moved away, and Hamp continued to play piano without any formal instruction. When he entered Los Angeles' Polytechnic High School in the early '40s, even though he was still studying and practicing on his own, he began playing professionally. At sixteen, he persuaded his father to consent to his joining the Musician's Union. His last year at Polytechnic he went to school half days, worked at night, and graduated in 1946.
One of his first jobs was with Cecil, now better known as Big Jay, McNeely. At that time, 1945, McNeely was playing modern jazz. As a practicing musician Hamp began to meet other musicians. In 1947 his "greatest break" came when he met Charlie Parker and played with him in Los Angeles for about eight months with Howard McGhee's band. "That's when I really started to advance musically," Hamp recalls. "It was Bird's conception of time that influenced me most and made me realize how important meter and time is in jazz to make it swing. It was a foundation. I began experimenting, taking liberties with time, playing double time, or letting a couple of beats go by to make the beat stand out, not just play on top of it all the time. Of course I didn't try to copy his solos, or anything like that, but I think Parker has influenced me more than anybody, even piano players."
After the McGhee job he played with various modern groups, led by Red Norvo, Johnny Otis, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards, and Dexter Gordon among others. In 1951 his second big break came when he played a concert for Los Angeles disc jockey and jazz impressario Gene Norman and met Shorty Rogers and Art Pepper. Shorty was so impressed with Hamp's work he asked him to record. The result was the first famous Giants album released by Capitol in January, 1952. That led to a job at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, where both Shorty and Shelly Manne were among Howard Rumsey's All-Stars. "Just when things were going pretty good," Hamp says, "Uncle Sam stepped in and I got drafted. But I was lucky, I played in Army bands, shows and officer's clubs. I was sent overseas to Tokyo and met some jazz musicians over there, and got a chance to play a bit."
On his return to Los Angeles early in 1955, Hamp went into The Haig with his trio. He had Red Mitchell, bass and Mel Lewis, drums. After Mel left to rejoin Stan Kenton, Hamp got his old friend Chuck Thompson who had played with him in various groups for many years. The trio's arrangements are by Hamp, although they are not written. However, Hamp explains, "It is a cooperative trio. If Red or Chuck have anything to add that might sound better we try it. If the fellows are going to play together, they must get along together. We are very happy, and the job is about the only one I ever heard of where we can't wait to get to work every night."
At 5 a.m. June 28th, 1955 I drove away from the recording session, with Hamp and his trio safely on tape at last. It had been an unusual record date, possibly our most complex to prepare, but the simplest in process. I wanted to experiment with recording Hamp away from a studio because jazz musicians often tighten up in the usually cold, antiseptic confines of the studios, where the musician's aim, perforce, is to avoid a mistake, rather than play his daring and creative best. Also, on the audio level, I wanted to experiment with more interesting, alive, and natural sounds. So the session was set for the huge gymnasium-auditorium of the Los Angeles Police Academy several miles from downtown Los Angeles, in isolated Chavez Ravine. Hamp fell in love with the piano, a Steinway concert grand, and playing it was a treat for him. We started at midnight, with the building deserted, the lights out, and engineer John Palla-dino and his Ampexes out of sight. The only visitors were Hamp's wife Jackie, Red Mitchell's wife, Doe, Contemporary's Bob Kirstein and David Stuart, and photographer-designer Pauline Annon. They sat quietly drinking beer at a table behind the piano, out of Hamp's line of vision.
It was agreed Hamp would just play sets as he did on the job, letting the tunes run as long as he pleased. We got a balance while he warmed up, and when he was in the mood, the recording machines were turned on. Between sets we listened to a few playbacks, had a few drinks, made additional takes on a couple of tunes, and so the pre-dawn hours passed quickly and pleasantly.
Hamp is Primarily a swinging jazzman, but he is more than just that. He is an instinctive artist with a remarkable sense of the form and substance of a tune. His lyrical, pianistic style finds expression in long (full chorus) ad lib introductions like those on All the Things You Are or What Is This Thing Called Love. He is very much at home with the blues, and there are three representative examples of his blues style in the album. But whatever he plays, standard or blues, the basic form is respected, and performances achieve vitality from the extremely personal character of Hamp's improvisations set against the swinging beat.
Hamp has this to say about his own playing: "I picked a variety of tunes because so many people think of modern jazz pianists playing only in one way. That's why I wanted to do things like So In Love for contrast, all ad lib with no beat, and Carioca which has a Latin beat. I've heard it said that a lot of modern pianists play with the right hand and have a claw for a left hand. I want to make sure I have two hands and use all my fingers. And swing! When you play jazz you must swing. That is the basic thing. If it does not have a good feeling, I can't buy it. It's okay to be "intellectual" playing jazz. Generally that just means advanced harmony. You can be as advanced as you want to be, but that doesn't mean you don't have to swing. I try to advance and play modern changes and study and try to go into music as far as I can, but still I say always pat your feet.
"Breaking it down, I believe this: speak your piece and be quiet. I look at it like preaching a sermon. Get a feeling going to the audience, because after all they are who you are playing for, and try to express your story. After building to a climax, take the tune out. I hate to play jam sessions because they play so long you lose the good of a tune, just like squeezing an orange and all the juice comes out. It's time to get a new orange, it's time to play a new tune."
"Music is truth. You can't play music and expect to fool music. God knows there are a lot of people fooling the public now. You might be able to fool the public but you can't fool music."
- Lester Koenig (August 26, 1955)