Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jeff Hamilton: Always in Good Time and In Good Taste

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

If you have an interest in Jazz drumming, Jeff Hamilton spoils you.

He doesn’t follow a standard of excellence for good taste and drive in the drum chair; Jeff sets the standard. Jeff always comes to play and his playing is always superb.

Nothing is thrown in or thrown away. With Jeff, every bar of music counts and every bar he plays is musical.

One of the qualities that I admired in the work of Larry Bunker, the late drummer, vibraphonist and pianist, was that whatever the musical setting, Larry made a difference.

When Larry replaced Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, the quartet became more hard-driving and forceful. He was trumpeter and composer Shorty Rogers drummer of choice in either a big band or a small group setting. “He makes things happen in the music,” said Shorty. When pianist Bill Evans was in Hollywood and looking for a replacement for drummer Paul Motian, the unanimous recommendation from the studio pros was Larry.  Bill later said of his year-and-a-half tenure with Larry: “His time was always so strong and his drumming so discriminating.” And when, Claire Fischer formed his big band, he said of Larry: “There was no other choice to fill the drum chair.  Larry is not just a drummer, he is a complete musician.”

Jeff Hamilton is this kind of drummer. You never overlook him. Not because he draws attention to himself, but because of the attention he draws to the music at hand by his contributions to it.

Woody Herman once said: “Davy Tough, Don Lamond and Jake Hanna all made my band their own, and so did Jeff Hamilton. That’s pretty damned good company.”

You can run but you can’t hide as the drummer is a piano, bass and drums trio.

Many drummers overplay in such an intimate setting, but not Jeff who always brings the perfect blend of time-keeping, adding color and, when called upon, masterful solo interpretations to trios led by pianist Monty Alexander, bassist Ray Brown and his own, current group with Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass.

Drummers like Jeff make you proud to be associated with the instrument and we wanted to recognize and salute him on these pages with the following overview of his career as drawn from his website: and with the video tribute that concludes this piece.

“Originality is what versatile drummer Jeff Hamilton brings to the groups he performs with and is one of the reasons why he is constantly in demand, whether he is recording or performing with his trio, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, the Clayton Brothers or co-leading the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. As well as recording and performing throughout the world, Jeff also teaches, arranges and composes.

Jeff has received rave reviews for his dynamic drumming. David Badham of Jazz Journal International stated in his review of the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra's release, Heart and Soul (Capri): "This is one of the finest modern big band issues I've heard...This is undoubtedly due to Jeff Hamilton, a most driving and technically accomplished drummer."" Jeff is equally at home in smaller formats. He is an integral part of the Clayton Brothers and Herb Wong stated in his review of their release, The Music (Capri), in JazzTimes: "Always evident is...the colorful work of the rhythm section featuring...the sensitivity and sizzle of Jeff Hamilton's seasoned drums." Leonard Feather of the Los Angeles Times described Jeff and his work with Oscar Peterson as "the Los Angeles-based drummer whose intelligent backing and spirited solo work met Peterson's customarily high standards..." In his review of the Ray Brown Trio in the Denver Post, Jeff Bradley stated that Jeff "brought the crowd to its feet with his amazing hand-drumming, soft and understated yet as riveting and rewarding as any drum solo you've heard."

Born in Richmond, Indiana, Jeff grew up listening to his parent's big band records and at the age of eight began playing drums along with Oscar Peterson records. He attended Indiana University and later studied with John Avon Ohlen. Jeff was influenced by Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, "Philly" Joe Jones and Shelly Manne. In 1974, he got his first big break playing with the New Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He then joined Lionel Hampton's Band until 1975 when he, along with bassist John Clayton, became members of the Monty Alexander Trio. He attained a childhood goal in 1977 when he joined Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd, with whom he made several recordings. In 1978, he was offered the position vacated by Shelly Manne in the L.A.4 with Ray Brown, Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida. He recorded six records with the L.A.4, some of which featured his own arrangements and compositions. From 1983 to 1987, Jeff performed with Ella Fitzgerald, the Count Basie Orchestra, Rosemary Clooney and Monty Alexander. Jeff began his association with the Ray Brown Trio in 1988 and left in March 1995 to concentrate on his own trio. From 1999-2001, the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra was named the in-residence ensemble for the Hollywood Bowl Jazz series. Jeff is currently touring with his own Trio, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and vocalist-pianist, Diana Krall.

In addition to his many recordings with Ray Brown, Jeff has been on nearly 200 recordings with artists such as Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Milt Jackson, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, John Pizzarelli, Benny Carter, Lalo Schifrin, George Shearing, Dr. John, Clark Terry, Gene Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Scott Hamilton, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Keely Smith, Bill Holman, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Mark Murphy. Jeff is a frequent guest of the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. He also appeared in Natalie Cole's Great Performances PBS special, Unforgettable and an Oscar Peterson documentary, Life In The Key Of Oscar.”

Jeff currently leads a wonderful trio with Tamir Hendelman on piano, a technical and artistic marvel, and Christoph Luty on bass, a steady and sophisticated swinger.

But for the accompanying video to this piece, I wanted to reach back to an earlier version of the trio with Larry Fuller on piano and Lynn Seaton on bass performing at Nick’s Jazz Cafe in Laren, The Netherlands, on October 10, 1996. The tune is entitled Max and Jeff wrote it.

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