Chico Hamilton: chic* chic chico (1965) Impulse!

UPDATED December 5, 2020: Harry M The Jazz Paparazzi strikes again – Chico at Montreux 1971 added at foot of post.

Warning, contains multiple digressions. UK vs. Canada, grudge match, may offend Canadians, Hungarians, the English, and the Scots. Anyone else, form an orderly line, LJC will get to offend you shortly.

Selection 1: What’s New (Haggart/ Burke (1939) – UK re-mastered from copy tape, EMI  pressing, Hayes Middlesex.

.  .  .

Selection 2: What’s New (Haggart/ Burke, 1939), Sparton Canadian press with US Van Gelder metal.

.  .  .

Both editions are mono. The crunch is the difference between original Van Gelder master (Canada) and UK EMI remastering. If you can’t hear any difference (MP3 320kbps through headphones) that is a compliment to EMI.


John Anderson, trumpet; Lou Blackburn, trombone; Henry Sigismonti, French horn; Bill Green, flute, piccolo; Harold Land, tenor sax; Gabor Szabo, guitar; Albert Stinson, bass; Chico Hamilton, drums, recorded Los Angeles, CA, January 4, 1965

Chamber jazz instrumentation, which includes piccolo, flute and french horn. Interesting choice of Harold Land on tenor, and of course the guitar of Gabor Szabo.  Long term Chico collaborator, Szabo has been described as “One of the most original guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, mixing his Hungarian heritage and a distinctive sound with advanced jazz settings.” (All Music) “Not essential, but this album has its strong moments”, says AllMusic, who come up short on Hungarian dining-out  recommendations. Not at LJC, Goulash-jazz, Hungarian menu spoken here:

(Scene cuts to 1980’s Soho scene, London )

I learned to navigate a Hungarian menu at Soho’s Gay Hussar restaurant in the 1980s, then  a favourite haunt of Westminster’s plotting and scheming Socialist elite. (The People’s Party always seems to dine well). Owner and host Victor advances.

Has sir chosen?

I’ll have the Debreceni kolbász (smoked sausage).

And to drink, sir?

The Egri Bikavér?  (Bull’s Blood)

Good choice, sir.

The taste of everything here still haunts me today, especially their signature dessert: piped chestnut puree topped with whipped cream, and  finished with a glass of Tokaj (five puttonyos) – “Wine of Kings, and King of Wines” , according to the Tokaj Tourist Board.

A table at the Gay Hussar didn’t actually require you to hold rank in the Hungarian cavalry, nor to be gay, as best I recall. It was more like a Gentleman’s Club, just a few hundred yards from Ronnie Scotts, who didn’t require you to be Scottish either, though in the era of London’s most feared gangsters, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, saying you were “a  friend of Ronnie’s” on the door never did any harm.

Back to Gabor Szabo.

On the eve of the Hungarian uprising in 1958 , Szabo and family fled to America, settling in California, which was then part of the United States. Gabor attended Berklee College, Boston, then joined Chico Hamilton’s innovative quintet featuring Charles Lloyd , where he perfected his “agile, near-free runs” (All Music). Gabor Szabo was a melodic player, rather than the chordal style favoured in jazz guitar at the time. A guitarist describes Szabo’s style as “filled with cool idiosyncratic elements: clanging open strings; dissonance, articulate jazz runs; Spanish, gypsy, sitar and Hungarian influences; subtle use of feedback as musical colour and all delivered on a Martin flattop with a Dearmond pickup – 180° away from every other jazz guitarist at the time, and since

After Szabo and Chico parted company, Hamilton recruited Larry Coryell, a jazz rock guitarist whose style does very little for me.

After recording on Hamilton’s El Chico and Further Adventures of El Chico, Szabo established himself as leader in his own right, putting out a series of albums for Impulse including Gypsy ’66SpellbinderSorcererMore Sorcery, and Jazz Raga. Szabo’s exotic ethno-folk-jazz must have been an interesting novelty in its day. Familiarity with world sounds is more widespread today, perhaps the novelty has worn off, as a sample from The Sorcerer (1967) below suggests. I quite like the “Space” track, which puts me in mind of  a long opening for Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane, where it would sound more at home.

I can live without these Impulse titles, however, I do get an unexpected craving for a Hungarian take away.

Among this body of work, Szabo  pursued a variety of musical directions which pleased the eclectic experience-hungry young audiences on the West Coast.

 Interest in pop-psychology was running high In the 1970s with the cult of self-improvement, (which later moved on to the less-demanding cult of home improvement). Szabo joined the Church of Scientology, allegedly in pursuit of a rehab program, but fell out with the Church over its asset demands. However a well-known jazz keyboard player is still hanging in there, Chick, Chick, Chick…

Szabo’s career was cruelly cut short by illness in the 1980s, at the age of only 45.  Hamilton outlived him by a margin of two years to one, departing in 2013, aged 92 . The Gay Hussar closed its doors in 2018, age 55. Its planned renaissance as a modern English/ French fine dining venture hangs on the fate of London’s recovery, currently on life-support. I understand Ronnie Scotts too is planning to re-open its doors in early December, including a gig by our own national treasure Simon Spillett. I wish them all every success.


I was aware of Chico Hamilton, but despite his Impulse label pedigree, the production and line-up rarely appealed. A drummer as band-leader? OK,  Art Blakey, it can work. The real issue is the place of the guitar. I don’t have a problem with guitarists like Billy Bauer, Grant Green or Kenny Burrell, who fit in the jazz tradition. Szabo no doubt has some fans out there, it has a certain rhythmic and harmonic quality, but jazz-ragas feels very dated. Szabo was later replaced by jazz-rock pioneer guitarist  Larry Coryell, and guitar would feature in many of Chico’s later line-ups. 

In the selection “What’s New” Gabor does a lengthy guitar introduction with acoustic effects, wandering into some  introspective noodling and after ages, around 2:35, Harold Land butts in to remind everyone this is meant to be a jazz session, puts in a passionate solo with artful references to the composition, melody, and chord changes, like a pro. Salvages it for me, love Harold Land.

A reprise of Chico’s later Impulse albums repeats the same formula of latino-fusion-jazz-funk, a steam-roller percussion beat, overlaid with funky guitar accents, and a happy sort-of-repeating tune on top. One tune morphs into another, more of the same background soundtrack feel. Hamilton took the next logical step of forming a commercial and film production company, and went on to score numerous  feature films, and hundreds of anonymous commercials for TV and radio. Not to belittle commercial work, a guy’s-gotta-eat, but his output seems low on original artistic content, an re-arranger of well established ideas rather than an innovator.


UK issue of Impulse A 82 , mono, EMI remastering and pressing

Sparton Impulse Canada label – original metal VAN GELDER pedigree

UK Liner Notes

Canadian Gatefold – wins by a (s)mile!

Collector’s Corner

Canada’s Sparton label was fortunate to be on the Columbia distribution list for original metal. Below is an example of another Sparton Impulse, this time stereo, with RVG Stereo stampers:

As for Chico, I am far from won over by his discography, or his partnership with Szabo’s guitar, however a quick look over my namesake city, London, Ontario, has been an eyeopener.

London, Ontario. Fun Facts #1:

Impulse Records were manufactured and distributed in Canada by Sparton Records, of London, Ontario. Utilitarian industrial building, like any other.

Maybe its because I’m a Londoner…but just who are these people to adopt the name of my town? I wanted to find out more.

London, Ontario, known as The Forest City,  was the birthplace of Justin Bieber (150m followers on Instagram). With a population in the ’60s of only 170,000, London Ontario was also home to the largest known concentration of serial killers in the world, with least six  active killers between 1959 and 1984.

Over the course of 25 years, London Ontario was shaken by 29 gruesome murders, thirteen of whom were attributed to three killers who were eventually caught and convicted: Gerald Thomas Archer, known as the London Chamber Maid Slayer, Christian McGee, known as the Mad Slasher, and Russell Johnson, known as The Balcony Killer. Where’s Sherlock when you need him? At 221B Baker Street, in the other London, of course.

A century or more before these events, the town of London was primed to become the capital of Upper Canada, later Ontario, but that honour eventually went to Toronto, previously named York. A tale of two cities, London Ontario also enjoys a river named The Thames (below, left) Real Thames, England (below right)

In 1838 the British government located its Ontario peninsular garrison in London, in order to repel anyone foolish enough to mistakenly attack the wrong London. In a run of bad luck, five years previously London suffered an outbreak of Cholera, and not long after, a fire destroyed much of the town, which was then largely constructed of wooden buildings. One of the first casualties of the fire was the town’s only fire engine. Bummer, should have seen that one coming.

London, Ontario landmarks included Blackfriars Bridge, Crystal Palace Barracks, the district of Kensington which was renamed London West. The headquarters of The Royal Canadian Regiment remains at Wolseley Barracks on Oxford Street. London, Ontario is a chilling doppelganger of London, England, the place names are the same but everyone has the wrong accent,  like an episode of The Outer Limits.

Fast forward to modern international relations.  Spurning its long and faithful relationship with Great Britain and The Commonwealth, Canada embarked on a long and steamy affair with France, co-habitating partner of Germany, and co-leader of the European Union, which Great Britain has just  left.

All of which goes to show, you just never know who your real friends are, until you find you don’t actually have any.

LJC                                                                                                                                         London – England.

Are any Chico albums worth seeking out?  Have I been too harsh on Chico or Gabor? Or indeed, Canada? Thoughts welcome, as always.

UPDATE December 5, 2020: Harry M has the photos, as always, our man was there – Montreux 1971, Chico working up a sweat. Interesting microphones too, everywhere..


Photo Credits: Harry M


13 thoughts on “Chico Hamilton: chic* chic chico (1965) Impulse!

  1. I had one of those funny weeks when we were between lockdowns where I acquired three Chico albums from two phone calls asking me to look at collections, but they were all earlier ones, presumably Pacifics, a couple at least on Vogue, which I struggle to flip past when digging the crates. I will now pull them out and listen. I spent a week camping on the Isle of Wight with a Hungarian woman a few weeks after I had stopped being a Mormon missionary. I enjoyed it more than most of the mission.

    • Isle of Wight, HMP Parkhurst? I recall crossing over to IoW on the Red Funnel, I think it was, in the company of salt-of-the Earth mums visiting their boy in Parkhurst, who had “fallen in with the wrong crowd”. An education.

  2. Another vote for the Charles Lloyd collaborations already mentioned – these albums all have more original & challenging music to my ears than the various later Hamilton incarnations, and have aged more gracefully as a result (albeit not quite as well as the aforementioned Tokaji!).

  3. Does anyone know the date or release number for the Canadian Sparton Impulse transition from red to yellow mono labels? I figure it was late 1965 or so, but I could be wrong.

  4. I also find problems sometimes sorting the Gabor from the goulash and the Hungary in the Hamilton. I do find the collaboration of Lloyd and Szabo on Passin’ Thru and Man from Two Worlds worth repeated listening. The recordings done under Lloyds name with Szabo for Columbia around 1964 are also worth hearing. ( Nirvana and Of Course ) I do enjoy the Hamilton recordings with Dolphy and am very partial to a later Szabo recording on Skye called Dreams with arrangements by Gary McFarland

  5. Great memories of an evening spent listening to a couple of sets by Chico and his latter day group with Eric Person (alto) and Cary deNigris (guitar) A master of the brushes, mallets and tom toms as well as being a dab hand at composing jingles !

  6. I had lunch at The Gay Hussar in March ’96 a week before moving to Budapest.
    I’ll spare you my Debreceni kolbàsz story but commend you on your choice of dessert.
    After 7 years back in the UK, I moved back to Hungary last month together with my family & a few Chico Hamilton & Szabò Gàbor records.
    I agree that Hamilton’s LP’s are far from essential although those he recorded with Charles Lloyd & Szabó are worth a listen.
    Szabo’s later LP Belsta River 1979 is probably my favourite, recorded in Stockholm and lacking the hippy fashion ethic found on those Impulse titles.
    egészségetekre and greetings from the birth place of Gabriel Taylor

  7. I started the player before reading the article and recognized Gabor Szabo immediately. I’m not a big fan, so that’s credit to the Hungarian. I find his recordings appealing but very dated, as you say. The Sorcerer is a pretty good record, but the fact that they cover a Sonny and Cher tune says a lot.
    I would have liked dining at that Hungarian restaurant in London. My hometown in Ohio had what was once one of the largest Hungarian communities in the states, but everything Hungarian there is folky. There was never an elegant restaurant. All babushka, no Zsa Zsa.
    As for Chico, meh. I’ve tried. Gongs East is a decent effort.

  8. And his name was Foreststorn… My favorite Chico album is A DIFFERENT JOURNEY (Reprise R-6078) with Szabo, Stinson, Lloyd and Bohanon.

  9. Earlier recordings with Jim Hall and Buddy Collett (and Fed Katz on cello) stand up well in my opinion, especially the ”Live At Strollers” set. A different sort of jazz.

    • Agree with Bill. The early albums on P.J. were refreshing, original and expressions of good taste. Collette on tenor was a real swinger, Jim an all round guitar player, Fred’s violoncello the novelty instrument, which gave the group its special sound. Chico is more than just a talented craftsman.
      Therefore his later productions are rather disappointing.

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