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Jeff Hamilton: Sound Painter

By Published: May 9, 2006
AAJ: It's a reproach to other people, to see somebody like that...

JH: ...and it's a curse to have it. So everybody I was seeking out had that same drive. Like John Clayton: I saw him conduct his life in the way that he wanted it to go. He made it quite simple: who do you want to play with? And I told him. And he said 'OK, then you will.'

You're going to piss some people off because they don't really get you. And I don't go out of my way to do it; I think I'm nice with people, I'm patient with people for the most part. I do what I do, and I've spent my whole life trying to do what I do as well as I can do it. From the time I was 8—I'm 52—so that's a lot of years to be honing your craft, and being so clear-cut on what it is you want to do for a living...

Back to the big band thing—I didn't answer that. John and I had talked about doing that in college. He was planning it as early as late college, early Monty Alexander days. When we did our first gig in '85 at the Hyatt on Sunset, it wasn't like OK, we've reached the dream, it was, 'we can't live off of this, but let's do it as much as we can.'

You used the term 'amazing.' The only thing amazing about it today is to realize that we've been doing this for 20 years, and just now people are starting to sit up and take notice of who we are. That's the amazing part.

We're contented that it's gone this long, that we're playing this well, and there are still people who want to be in the band that we adore, and they're family. This is what it oughtta be.

AAJ: So, where do you go from here?

JH: Keep doing what I'm doing: play great music with people I love to play with. Ten years ago, who would've thought I'd be playing with Tamir Hendelman and Christophe Luty?

AAJ: What else do you do besides music?

JH: Collect wine. Study wine. I work with a personal trainer twice a week, try to stay healthy. I just started playing tennis again, reasonably, instead of diving for balls. I love great meals, and great bottles of wine with the meals. I'm co-owner of the Bosphorus Cymbal Company. I'm a consultant with Remo Drum Company. I book my own trio, and try to keep my head above water. I try to walk every day, except on this thing [the ship].

AAJ: Is there anything you want to expound on, anything you'd like to see changed?

JH: I think our youth generally are not as hungry as we were to get this information, because everything's handed to them. We have so much available now. Before, to see Jo Jones, there was one 33 that you could spin, and you'd have to put the needle in the same spot to hear what he was doing every time, to transcribe it. Now you just slip on the DVD and you see exactly what he's doing. And I think because everything has become so easy, people don't really cherish everything they're getting.

If you hear Jo Jones play a lick on a record, you're imagining what he's doing. It's like listening to baseball on the radio. I played what I thought he was doing. When I finally saw him play it, he did it another way, so now I had two ways to play it.

And nobody wants to sound like anybody else right now. Well, how else do you get your sound? You study the ones you're crazy about. As Jeff Clayton says in clinics all the time, people are arguing with [having to do] transcriptions because they don't want to sound like anybody else. But as Jeff says, it's better to sound like somebody than nobody.

AAJ: Amen to that. Well, I think we got it.

JH: Good. I need a nap.

Selected Discography

Jeff Hamilton Trio, From Studio 4, Cologne, Germany (Azica Records, 2006)
Dianne Reeves, Good Night, and Good Luck (Original Soundtrack) (Concord, 2005)
Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Live at MCG (MCG Jazz, 2005)
Jeff Hamilton Trio, The Best Things Happen (Azica Records, 2004)
Diana Krall, Live in Paris (Verve, 2002)
Clayton Brothers Quintet, Siblingity (Qwest, 2000)
Jeff Hamilton Trio, Hamilton House: Live at Steamers (Mons, 1999)
Ray Brown Trio, Don't Get Sassy (Telarc, 1994)
Benny Carter, Elegy in Blue (Musicmasters, 1994)
George Shearing/Ernestine Anderson, A Perfect Match (Concord, 1988)
Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd, Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow: Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd play Chick Corea and Steely Dan (Century, 1978)
Monty Alexander, Live! Montreux Alexander (MPS, 1977)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: Bill King
All Others: Dr. Judith Schlesinger

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