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Hampton Hawes: The Sermon

C. Michael Bailey By

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Hampton Hawes: The Sermon

Grace under pressure

While the West Coast Jazz pianist are not was well known as their East Coast brothers. However, the West Coast did produce their share of fine pianists. Dolo Coker, Carl Perkins, and Gene Russell just to mention three. Perhaps the best of the West Coast bunch was Hampton Hawes, a sort of Bud Powell filtered through a Los Angeles sensibility.

Hawes began his career backing Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray in the late 1940s. He served in the military in 1952-54, returned to LA and recorded regularly for Contemporary until a conviction on heroin possession sidelined him for five years.

The Sermon was the last recording Hawes made before entering prison. He had been arrested 11 days before the session and while awaiting incarceration, decided to record a collection of spirituals. These circumstances make the recording of The Sermon as compelling as Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section. Strife and controversy, a consequence of drug addiction, surrounded both men and both men produced masterpieces from this tension. The Sermon was not released until 1987 and came out originally as an LP. Since that time, it has been out-of-print. It is a pity that this music languished so long and a triumph that it is digitally here now.

The selections fall into the two categories of fast and slow in tempo. The bouncy, upbeat "Down By the Riverside," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho" partially hide the fear and apprehension the pianist must have felt. An underlying nervous hope permeates the faster pieces. "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," and "Go Down Moses" betray an eerie resignation, all being delivered in an almost dreamy manner, like darkness described by a poet.


Track Listing: Down By The Riverside; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen; When The Roll Is Called Way Up Yonder; Go Down Moses; Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho; Blues N/C (Total Time: 67:41).

Personnel: Hampton Hawes: Piano; Leroy Vinnegar: Bass; Stan Levey: Drums.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Contemporary | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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