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Chico Hamilton: The Master

By Published: October 25, 2007

AAJ: That was my next question actually The Roman Polanski film Repulsion provided you with a chance to work on a film score. How closely did you work with the director on the music?

CH: Everyday. I was out on the set, out in London. I was working in the nighttime with Lena Horne, with my group. Every morning 8 o'clock I was in the studio with Roman while he was shooting.

AAJ: The film is very atmospheric and the music really mirrors the moods perfectly. Did you have specific ways of composing/playing to achieve such a complimentary effect? When you were writing the music for that did you find yourself working a different way? Or did you pretty much work the same way?

CH: Worked the same way. Roman was a perfect director. He never forgot why he hired me in the first place. That's one of the reasons I got out of the film business. Because when those producers forget why they hired you, all of a sudden they become the music composers, know.

AAJ: So Roman gave you free reign?

CH: I had twenty-five cues in there and he liked all of them.

AAJ: Your performance of "Blue Sands in Jazz On A Summer's Day is one of the most compelling visual documents of a jazz ensemble performing live. Had you known you were to be filmed?

CH: Jazz on a Summer's Day? Yeah.

AAJ: Considering the available technology then, the band's sound, too, is impressive, none of the softer intricacies are lost. Did you have any say or ideas in regards to the band's sound as it was recorded?

CH: I didn't even know they were recording it. We just played, that's all.

AAJ: You worked with Lena Horne; you also worked with some other jazz vocalists

CH: I played with Lena, Lady Day (Billie Holiday).

AAJ: You were with Billie Holiday for Lady Sings the Blues (Verve, 1956)?

CH: Yes, and Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett.

AAJ: Was backing a vocalist a different experience for you? Often it seems a vocalist is very specific in what they need from their drummer. Did you have a preference of vocalist as opposed to an instrumental line up?

CH: You gotta be strong to play for singers [chuckles]. But I used what I learned from playing with singers, I now apply it with the instrumentalists in my group. I use the same approach.

Chico HamiltonAAJ: You also did some TV music writing. How long did you do that for?

CH: Madison Avenue? That was on the screen for about ten years.

AAJ: That was in the '60s?

CH: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s...something like that.

AAJ: And did you find that restrictive

CH: Well I found that it became boring. Very boring. Plus I found out that it bleeds you. I found out I was just doing things, just for the money. TV will ruin you; it uses up your talent.

AAJ: Do you have a preference about venue? I know over in Europe often the musicians have to play the larger festivals. Do you have a preference as to how big a venue you play is?

CH: No. I'll play in a men's room if I feel like it.

AAJ: I like to see jazz in small clubs...

CH: I'll play wherever. It doesn't matter. First of all you gotta understand something; I don't play music for people. I play music for music's sake.

AAJ: Anything coming up which you are looking forward to?

CH: Well, I am looking forward to my next birthday. And after that one, I want another one!

Selected Discography

Chico Hamilton, Hamiltonia (Joyous Shout!, 2007)
Chico Hamilton, Chico Hamilton Presents: Alternative Dimensions of El-Chico (SoulFeast/Joyous Shout!, 2007)
Chico Hamilton, Juniflip (Joyous Shout!, 2006)
Chico Hamilton, Believe (Joyous Shout!, 2006)
Chico Hamilton, 6th Avenue Romp (Joyous Shout!, 2006)
Chico Hamilton, Heritage (Joyous Shout!, 2006)
Chico Hamilton, Thoughts Of... (Koch Jazz , 2002)
Chico Hamilton, Foreststorn (Koch Jazz, 2001)
Chico Hamilton, Original Ellington Suite (Blue Note, 2000)
Chico Hamilton, Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of the Chico Hamilton Quintet (Mosaic, 1998)
Chico Hamilton, Dancing To A Different Drummer (Soul Note, 1994)
Chico Hamilton, Catwalk (Mercury, 1977)
Chico Hamilton, The Players (Blue Note, 1976)
Chico Hamilton, Live At Montreux (w/Albert King & Little Milton) (Stax, 1974)
Chico Hamilton, The Master (Stax, 1973)
Chico Hamilton, The Further Adventures Of El Chico (Impulse!, 1966)
Chico Hamilton, El Chico (Impulse!, 1966)
Chico Hamilton, The Dealer (Impulse!, 1966)
Chico Hamilton, Man From Two Worlds (Impulse!, 1963)
Chico Hamilton, Drumfusion (Columbia, 1962)
Chico Hamilton, Passin' Thru (Impulse!, 1962)
Chico Hamilton, Original Chico Hamilton Quintet (World Pacific, 1960)
Chico Hamilton, Ellington Suite (World Pacific, 1959)
Chico Hamilton, The Three Faces Of Chico (Warner Brothers, 1959)
Chico Hamilton, Chico Hamilton Quintet (Pacific Jazz, 1957)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Michael Kurgansky
Bottom Photo: C. Andrew Hovan

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