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Hampton Hawes: For Real!

Hampton Hawes: For Real!
There are, Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, no second acts in American life. For pianist Hampton Hawes, born in 1928, there was scarcely a first. No sooner was he established as an up-and-coming talent than he was drafted into the Army. When he got out, he tried to pick up where he left off. A heroin habit he had acquired prior to military service led to a harsh incarceration because he refused to become an informer. Only a grant of clemency by President John F Kennedy in 1963 resulted in an early release from federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. Yet the damage was done. Hawes recovered his freedom, but his career never quite recovered. As the music scene changed in the 1960s and 1970s, Hawes tried to adjust, but never quite managed. His earlier promise, substantial in the mid-1950s, was never realized. He died prematurely of a massive stroke in 1977. He was just 49 years of age. His reputation underwent some rehabilitation between 1980 and 2000, but he has dropped steadily from sight since then.

With luck, this audiophile reissue of For Real will once more bring Hawes to public attention. A bare summary hardly does justice to the talent that was Hawes, although his reputation now rests on a slim body of recorded work. Essentially self-taught, his idiosyncratic technique sometimes got him into trouble with critics. They could never quite decide whether or not Hawes was the second coming of some combination of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, or merely a somewhat less distinguished version of Bud Powell. In reality, he was neither. Nobody could quite coax a blues out of a piano like Hawes. As an example, the title track "For Real" is 11 minutes of sheer delight, climaxed by a funky conversation between Hawes and bassist Scott LaFaro When Hawes was on, as he was here, he was remarkable. And yet he, like a number of musicians of the era, is a story of what could or should have been. It is depressingly familiar and yet somehow unique. His autobiography, Raise Up Off Me (Da Capo, 1974), is an African American counterpart to Art Pepper's equally frank Straight Life (Schirmer, 1994). But Pepper got a second chance. Hawes never really did.

Of his early works, Hawes is probably best known for his All Night Sessions (3 vols, Contemporary, 1956). That album coincided with his arrival as a recognized talent after early work with Shorty Rogers and Charlie Parker. The recordings are justly celebrated, but it is not difficult to see why a novice listener might want to start here. This recording is six tunes, more approachable, and distills much of what is best about Hawes: finely wrought lines, great blues, and originals as well as standards. The format—Hawes, a rhythm section and a front line player in Harold Land—is less diffuse and more familiar than in All Night. To some, it may sound harder swinging too, but having two very up-tempo numbers may be the reason. These, "I Love You" and "Crazeology," are not only burners, but feature LaFaro and Frank Butler at their most attractive. Butler, aside from keeping time on the ride, mostly avoids the cymbals. He is felt, really, rather than heard. LaFaro, definitely not the Bill Evans version, walks, plays roots and solos brilliantly. Then there is Land on tenor. He writes and he sounds like himself and no one else. His style, beautiful and reflective on ballads like "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," becomes a nearly seamless run of eighths and sixteenth notes as he goes up-tempo. He had everything: sound, time, technique and ideas. He may not have gotten the ink that some contemporaries did, but he could flat-out play.

Oddly, even though this recording was made in 1958, it was not released until 1961. It never got major reviews in the standard jazz press, although newspapers gave it lots of play. Perhaps it was Hawes' prior incarceration, euphemized as "inactivity" or "ill health," that was the reason. But its sound, engineered by the incomparable Roy DuNann for Contemporary and Lester Koenig, is wonderful. Craft Recordings Acoustic Sounds Series (180G LP) comes through in fine fashion and does justice to the original engineering. Even the cover photo, by drummer Stan Levey, is a real delight. This is precisely the kind of memorial that a talent like Hampton Hawes richly deserves.

Track Listing

Hip; Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams; Crazeology; Numbers Game; For Real; I Love You.


Harold Land
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: For Real! | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Craft Recordings

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