They Called Him Hamp

The 1950's ushered in some extraordinary talents. Perhaps it was the time and the musical cultures that grew as a result. Bud Powell was the dominant style on the ivory keys that ruled the day. Hampton Hawes (Hamp for short), was gifted within his own right and was able to bring his own interpretations to the 50' jazz scene. Some of the notables that he jammed with were Dextor Gordon, and Wardell Gray.

Hampton Hawes worked the Los Angeles scene and recorded many notables for the Contemporary Music Label. His was a tough life as were the lives of many of the musicians of that time. The lifestyle, the women, and the demanding gig schedules all are factors that attributed to many musicians getting involved in the wrong kind of nightlife. Arrested for heroin possession Hamp spent five years in prison before being pardoned by President Kennedy. This act of kindness can be attributed to a president that understood the historical contributions of jazz music.

Hampton Hawes was a man that lived by the trio. This was his method of delivery for most of his life. The trio format says a lot about the musician and his ability to improvise. This sets apart the men from the boys, and in the hot evening hours of the Los Angeles jazz clubs Hampton Hawes shined.

Hamp tried his hand at the electric piano in the mid 1970's. This of course disturbed some of his long time fans. They hung in there knowing that they all come back to the acoustic piano at some time or other. Many of the fine recordings can be heard on the Xanadu, Prestige, Savoy, Contemporary, Freedom, and Black Lion record labels. The man obviously got around and within each record label was able to leave his mark on those to follow.

Many of his recordings never broke new and innovative ground but were considered straightforward and memorable. Most notable are his memoirs, Raise Up Off Me, written in 1974. There is sadness in his music at this time that seems to tell the story of his troubled life. It's a story of a searching America: one that was reflected and revealed in his creative approach. His music reflected the life of his times, and we can all be grateful that there was a genius that moved through the world at that time called Hampton Hawes.

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