Who Was Hampton Hawes?
Although one rarely hears of Hampton Hawes today he was a significant presence on the jazz scene in the mid- 50s then again from the mid-60s on until his death in 1977. A direct descendant of bebop who had been variously classified as West Coast and funk-jazz or rhythm school, Hawes transcended all these categories. He was famous for his prodigious right hand, his deep groove, his very personal playing, his profound blues conceptions, and his versatility within a mainstream context. He remained anchored in chord-change based jazz with chord changes his whole career.
A mostly self-taught musician, he matured early musically and late personally-by his own admission. His life unfolded as an impassioned story of a rise from poverty into prominence, then a fall due to a heroin addiction, which had come right out of his native culture, five years in prison and a miraculous Presidential pardon, then personal transformation and return to world-wide artistic prominence for a decade before his early death.
Hampton Hawes was born in Los Angeles, November 13, 1928. His father was a very successful pastor and his mother played piano in the church. Hampton was raised in a strict religious environment. As a child he would sit on the piano bench next to his mother and watch her play. His earliest musical influence, therefore, was gospel piano music. The street environment was not a particularly wholesome. He later reflected that most of the people he knew in his neighborhood growing up were heroin addicts.