Hampton Hawes recorded many superb trio sets in the 1950s, including three with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson. This straight-ahead set (reissued on CD) finds the group exploring seven standards often played by bop musicians (including "You and the Night and the Music," "'Round Midnight," and "Autumn in New York") plus a couple of original blues. Although he was originally strongly influenced by Bud Powell, Hawes' own personality comes through in this very likable music.
All Music Guide
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Running down through the list of jazz pianists you find so many whose entire careers have been devoted to being nothing more than excellent imitators. The terrible truth is, just as with any other instrument or any other art, the better these imitators get (and no matter what the motive, it is still imitation) the more they sound like someone else, not themselves, and this is hardly an artistic fulfillment of any significant proportions.
On the other hand, the number of young pianists, or players of other instruments, who come along in any given period who do not sound like someone else is quite small. And by their very fewness are more precious.
Hampton Hawes is a pianist like this. He admires other pianists true; but he does not imitate them. This was the reason his first Contemporary album (C3505) was such a shock. On the strength of it, Hawes finished sixth in the 1955 Down Beat poll and was selected "Arrival of the Year" by Metronome magazine.
Here was definitely a new voice. It continued to be a new voice to me, personally, even after hearing him frequently during his engagement at The Black Hawk in San Francisco last Winter. When Hawes appeared in San Francisco, there was hardly a jazz musician in the area, with special emphasis on pianists, naturally, who didn't come to hear him. And one of them, after listening all night, paid him the ultimate compliment, "He doesn't sound like anybody else at all."
Hawes himself says his main influence has been Charlie Parker. How can a saxophone player influence a pianist? Well, it's simple enough really. Parker's approach to jazz, his phrasing, his concept, his ideas, were all a musical language that could be, and has been, the basis of many another musician's approach to his instrument. Hawes paid tribute to Parker's influence in his tape recorded interview on the back of his first album: It was Bird's conception of time that influenced me most and made me realize how important meter and time are in jazz to make it swing. . . I think Parker has influenced me more than anybody, even piano players." Hawes himself is now an influence of importance.
Hawes, who was born in Los Angeles in 1928 and first became interested in music by going to his father's church and listening to the choir, is basically a self-taught musician. He played on the West Coast relatively briefly before entering the Army in 1953, but before he went into the service he had recorded with Shorty Rogers and with the Lighthouse All-Stars. His Trio was formed on his discharge from the Army in 1955.
Forming the trio was a necessary product of Hawes' musical development; that he wound up with Red Mitchell and Chuck Thompson was a happy accident, to boot. John Bennett, owner of the Los Angeles nightclub, The Haig, engaged Hawes shortly after Hawes got out of the Army. Bennett suggested Red Mitchell as bassist in the group and explained he had a drummer, Mel Lewis, already working at the club who would be leaving shortly to join Kenton but who would stay long enough to get the group going.
Actually Hawes, away for two years in the Army, had not met Mitchell nor heard much of his playing on records. Before setting Red for the job there was a rehearsal, and Hamp recalls, "The first thing I noticed when we started to play was that we thought a whole lot alike. We just hit it off right."
Mitchell, who was born in New York in 1927, played both piano and alto in the Army but switched to bass when he played with the Jackie Paris Trio and Mundell Lowe. He returned to the piano with the Chubby Jackson big band, then played bass with Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman. In 1952 he joined the Red Norvo Trio and in 1954 played with Gerry Mulligan's Quartet. In 1953, Mitchell tied for New Star of the Year in the Down Beat Critic's Poll. He is one of the most highly regarded of contemporary bass men and his own reaction to the Hampton Hawes Trio is that "it's a happy thing". That this is true is evident when you see him smile at Hawes on the stand and watch Hawes when Mitchell solos.
With the knowledge that Mel Lewis was shortly to leave to join Kenton, Hawes began looking around for a drummer almost as soon as the Trio wen to work. A friend from high school days was Chuck Thompson who had also worked with Charlie Parker. "He had a natural feeling for swing," Hawes said. And Hawes and Thompson had already worked together in the Jack McVea band and on a Gene Norman concert, the first one Hawes had ever played.
But before he brought Thompson into the Trio, Hawes wanted to show Red Mitchell that Chuck was all he, Hawes, said he was. "So one afternoon we had a session. Red was flabbergasted and told me to make sure I got him, so that was it. Chuck is at his best playing rhythm drums. That's when he's the happiest, when he's playing with the group, playing rhythm. That's the kind of a drummer I wanted. I didn't want a drummer where I had to say, 'Look, I just want you to play rhythm.' I wanted a drummer that wanted to play rhythm. That's what Chuck wanted to do and that's why it worked out so well."
The way Chuck and Red and Hamp fit together is tasteful and intelligent. With this group there are no loud, boring drum solos. When Thompson takes a break, it is short and to the point. "Speak your piece and be quiet," is Hawes' musical philosophy and it guides the group. Thompson plays for the group, to help, to inspire and to complement the playing of the other two men. Mitchell, for his part, is not only a wonderful rhythm man, but a bassist whose harmonic ideas and solo conceptions are fascinating. Listen to him on Yesterdays and Squeeze Me, for instance. And observe the tasteful break Chuck takes on Section Blues.
This album was recorded (except for Squeeze Me) at Contemporary's own studio in Los Angeles. The Contemporary studio, by the way, is the backroom of the Contemporary offices, the warehouse where Contemporary records are packed and shipped. This has the advantage of allowing the musicians to relax more than they can in the usual electronic straight jacket. Friends are encouraged to be present. Due to the informal atmosphere and the fact that the musicians played almost as for a set at the club, most of the tunes on this album were done in one, some in two takes.
You And The Night And The Music features a pretty bass solo by Mitchell. Stella By Starlight is usually played as a ballad, but Hawes played it up-tempo (as well as ad lib) because he liked the chord structure and thought something could be done with it. "On ballads, I usually like the melody first," Hamp says, "then when I go into tempo, I feel the audience can follow me better." Blues For Jacque is dedicated to Hawes' wife, a Los Angeles schoolteacher. "She has played such a great part in my success and I like to play blues," Hawes says simply. Yesterdays, that beautiful melody, is one of Hawes' favorite sides on the album. "There's one run in the ad lib chorus that came out very well. I've been trying to play it ever since, but I never hit the peak that I recorded on that date. I'll have to forget about it before it'll come out again."
Charlie Parker's Steeplechase is an example of a tune that Hawes has been playing a long time but it still gets a fresh treatment each performance because "I'm always trying to seek something different to play." 'Round Midnight is the beautiful Thelonious Monk ballad. Squeeze Me, the old Duke Ellington tune, is one that Hamp has liked for a number of years and always wanted to record. Autumn In New York has a lovely original introduction. Section Blues Hawes calls a "conspiracy". Mitchell and Thompson worked it up while he was off the stand and presented it to him.
- Ralph J. Gleason (March 18,1956)