UPDATED September 3: Harry M has the photos, Hampton Hawes at Montreux, 1971
From the LJC backlog of draft reviews, an “inessential album” according to All-Music, nevertheless it has something to offer, and prompts a closer look at an original but somewhat neglected piano stylist, Hampton Hawes.
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Hampton Hawes, piano; Chuck Israels, bass; Donald Bailey, drums; recorded by Roy DuNann, Contemporary Records, Los Angeles, CA, May 12, 1965
The Hampton Hawes Trio here is formed of Bill Evan’s bass replacement for Scott LaFaro, Chuck Israels, and long-time Jimmy Smith drummer Donald Bailey.
I usually skip over irrelevant biographical detail, “Hampton Hawes was born at an early age in (YYYY) , blah bla” but the interesting start in life here was that Hampton’s mother was a church pianist, and his introduction to the piano was as a toddler sitting on his mother’s lap while she practiced. Becoming a pianist seemed inevitable.
Hawes became one of the early bebop big hitters, appearing in the late 40’s and early ’50s West Coast/ Hollywood Jazz and Los Angeles scene in the company of Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Howard McGhee, Art Pepper, Sonny Kriss and many other early artists. He had a head start; in music, timing is everything.
To quote myself:
“The young Hawes trained his right hand to reconstruct the horn lines of Charlie Parker. By the time he had finished absorbing the rhythmic influences of stride and swing piano, gospel and blues, combined with that virtuoso right hand, he arrived at an outstanding personal style, among the most accomplished in a crowded field of Fifties jazz piano”
Hawes was a highly original stylist who articulated the vocabulary of Bud Powell through to Bill Evans. He was not as propulsively rhythmic as Wynton Kelly or Horace Silver, not as elegant as Tommy Flanagan, nor as percussive as Herbie Hancock, but nevertheless established his own voice, with a niche in melodic interpretation.
His earliest recordings appeared as 10″ titles for Savoy and Prestige.Then, like many others in the early ’50s, Hawes was drafted into two years in the military. Returning from posting in the Pacific, Hawes in trio and quartet became a mainstay of the Contemporary catalogue, recordings including the well regarded three album “All Night Sessions” with Jim Hall. I think I have all three.
Some of his best recordings however were in the later 50s, including the outstanding “For Real” (Contemporary, 1958) which featured an extraordinary quartet of Scott LaFaro, Howard Land, and Frank Butler, recorded by Contemporary master-engineer and Van Gelder rival, Roy DuNann. This record is highly desirable as an original pressing, if you don’t have it, go for one. Now.
Then Hawes’ subsequent discography revealed another tell-tale absence. After being arrested in 1958 for heroin possession, sentenced to a disproportionate ten years, he spent five years in prison until granted executive clemency by President Kennedy. It is hard to envisage what public harm was prevented by jailing Hawes: reducing the number of great jazz recordings seems a poor outcome. The War On Drugs was reinvented as the War on Drug Addicts, especially against easy-marks like musicians. Musicians were least likely to shoot back, Hawes being armed only with a piano.
After release from prison, Hawes resumed playing and recording, and began touring. During a world tour in the late ’60s “he was startled to discover that he had become a legend among jazz listeners overseas” (Wiki citation requested), playing sold out shows and concert halls in ten countries, appearing on European television and radio networks, and recording many albums.
Delving into Hawes discography I found a bewildering array of titles, without a coherent timeline, perhaps best dated by his progressively expanding hair and luxuriant sideboards. It is also confused by the number of earlier recordings of Hawes first released by Contemporary many years later. He seemed to have carved out a niche in covering popular film and musical compositions. I am not sure what merit there is in his last decade of recordings: if you have any picks, please call them out.
In the 1970s, Hawes experimented with electronic keyboard, though eventually returned to playing the acoustic piano. However he looked an increasingly lone and haunted figure, and in 1977, died unexpectedly of a stroke, age 48.
Contemporary/ Lester Koenig’s eyes firmly on commercial potential, Here And Now consists mainly of popular tunes of the day associated with Hollywood big movies (1962-64). The piano art is how Hawes’s fluent improvisation handles the wordless but familiar tunes like”Fly Me To The Moon”. You can sing karaoke..”… Fly me to The Moon …umm.. among the stars…on Jupiter or Mars..dumdidum…la la.. in other words..umm..(I’m guessing) I Love You.”
Historical Note: in 1954, composer Bart Howard completed a song “In Other Words.” A publisher suggested he retitle the song “Take Me to the Moon,” but he finally settled on “Fly Me to the Moon“. In 1960, the song was made a huge hit by Peggy Lee, later recorded by Judy Garland, Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra. Its success made Howard so wealthy that he curtailed his songwriting efforts, probably the best outcome.
Hawes mastery of the keyboard enriches the melodies with sparkling improvisation, perfectly executed long rapid runs and bluesy-figures: he seems short on composition, but long on interpretation. Other tunes on Here And Now include “What Kind Of Fool Am I”? (Stop The World – I Want To Get Off, 1962); “Chim-Chimeree-Chim-Chimeree” (Mary Poppins, 1964)…”Days Of Wine And Roses” (Days Of Wine And Roses, 1962) …”People” (Funny Girl, 1964) plus “The Girl From Ipanema.” (la la la la lala la … 1962…ugh!)
Coltrane was fearless in taking on such iconic film tunes as a launchpad for stellar exploration. Note for another day, contrast the treatment of Julie Andrews/ Dick Van Dyke singing Mary Poppins’ Chim-Chimeree Chim Chimeree between Hawes and Coltrane. Different strokes for different folks, eh? Greensleeves is another killer, because the chord progression is so bountiful.
Vinyl: Contemporary S7616, my guess, an original 1965 issue.
Interestingly, Koenig’s Contemporary label continued to obfuscate the date of issue of its records by never declaring the date of manufacture, and using label design belonging to previous era issues, like this black label gold print design. The absence of deep groove is a telltale. The LKS stamper codes however provide some degree of authenticity compared to much later Monarch Contemporary reissues.
This is a short corner, as I have not bought (or played) a record in ages. Still, I have some earlier draft posts which I can upgrade to full posts, and a few more in still in draft to work with.
Any thoughts on Hampton Hawes? Apparently his autobiography Raise Up Off Me is well regarded. Any picks from his works?
As an aside, I wonder how my favourite record stores in London have weathered the last six months, without my custom, and without the usual vinyl-hungry overseas visitors to London who would drop by in search of souvenir British vintage rock. These things are rarely commented on in the media. Perhaps the Discogs Marketplace is having its best year ever? Some readers have told me they are splashing out on more treats, definitely a good morale boost. How are things looking for record collectors where you are? Feel free to share any experiences.
UPDATE: Harry M exclusive – Hampton Hawes, Montreux 1971