Hamilton was born in Los Angeles, California. His brother was the actor Bernie Hamilton. Hamilton started his career in a band with Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Collette and Jack Kelso. Engagements with Lionel Hampton, Slim & Slam, T-Bone Walker, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnet, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and six years with Lena Horne established his career. Hamilton appeared in the film You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) as part of the backing group supporting Fred Astaire. Hamilton also performed on the soundtrack of the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope film Road to Bali (1952).
He recorded his first album as leader in 1955 with George Duvivier (double-bass) and Howard Roberts (jazz guitar) for Pacific Jazz. In same year Hamilton formed an unusual quintet in L.A. featuring cello, flute, guitar, bass and drums. The quintet has been described as one of the last important West Coast jazz bands. The original personnel included flutist Buddy Collette, guitarist Jim Hall, cellist Fred Katz and bassist Jim Aton, who was later replaced by Carson Smith. Hamilton continued to tour, using different personnel, from 1957 to 1960. The group including flutist Paul Horn and John Pisano was featured in the film Sweet Smell of Success in 1957. The same group, this time including Eric Dolphy appeared in the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960), set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
Hamilton revamped his group in 1961 with Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo, George Bohanon and Albert Stinson, playing what has been described as chamber jazz, with “a moderate avant-gardism.” The group recorded for Columbia, Reprise and Impulse Records and also recorded the soundtrack for the industrial film Litho in 1962, the first American film to be shown behind the Iron Curtain. Hamilton formed a commercial and film production company in 1965; scored the feature films Repulsion, By Design, the television program Portrait of Willie Mays and the popular children’s series Gerald McBoing Boing, and scored hundreds of commercials for TV and radio.
He performed at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1972 and 1973, then formed a new group called “Players” in 1975 with Arthur Blythe, Steve Turre, Barry Finnerty and Abdullah; also, wrote and performed the musical score for the movie Coonskin in same year. Hamilton toured with Players using different personnel in 1976-80; recorded for Blue Note, Mercury Records, and Elektra. Originating faculty member in 1987 of New School University Jazz and Contemporary Music Program.
He formed another group named “Euphoria” in 1987 with Eric Person, Cary DeNigris and Reggie Washington; recorded Euphoria and toured Europe with the group 1987, 1988, 1990. He performed at Verona, Bolzano, Vienne, Nice, North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreux Jazz Festivals in 1989 with regrouped original quintet with Buddy Collette, Fred Katz, John Pisano, Carson Smith, recording 1991’s Reunion for Soul Note. For Soul Note he also recorded Arroyo (1992) with Euphoria, Trio! (1993) with Eric Person, Cary DeNigris, the Eric Dolphy tribute My Panamanian Friend with Euphoria in 1994, and solo drum session Dancing to a Different Drummer. He toured Europe with Euphoria in 1994. Hamilton was the subject of a documentary film by director Julian Benedikt, Dancing to a Different Drummer.
Hamilton released Foreststorn in 2001 featuring Euphoria with Cary DeNigris on guitar, Paul Ramsey on bass, and a new two-horn front line with Eric Lawrence on alto and soprano saxes and Evan Schwam on tenor sax, as well as special guest appearances from former band members Arthur Blythe, Steve Turre and his wife Akua Dixon, Eric Person, former Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman (a student of Chico’s), Blues Traveler front man John Popper (also a student of Chico’s), and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones. In August 2001 Hamilton performed in front of 2300 people at Lincoln Center My Funny Valentine: A Tribute to Chico Hamilton with Euphoria plus special guest appearances from Joe Beck, Arthur Blythe, Larry Coryell, Akua Dixon, Rodney Jones and Eric Person. In fall of 2002 he released Thoughts of… with Euphoria, with special guest appearances from guitarists and former band members Joe Beck, Larry Coryell and Rodney Jones.
In 1997, Hamilton received the New School University Jazz and Contemporary Music Programs Beacons in Jazz Award in recognition for his “significant contribution to the evolution of Jazz.” In 2002, he was awarded the WLIU-FM Radio Lifetime Achievement Award. At the IAJE in NYC January 2004, he was awarded a NEA Jazz Master Fellowship, presented to him by Roy Haynes. In December 2006, Congress confirmed the President’s nomination of Chico Hamilton to the President’s Council on the Arts. And in 2007, Hamilton received a Living Legend Jazz Award as part of The Kennedy Center Jazz in Our Time Festival, as well as being awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts from The New School.
In 2006, he released four CDs on Joyous Shout! in celebration of his 85th birthday: Juniflip featuring guest appearances from Love front-man Arthur Lee, vocalist (and successful actor) Bill Henderson, and former Hamilton band members trombonist George Bohanon and bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham; Believe with guest appearances from vocalist and rhythm and blues singer Fontella Bass and trombonist George Bohanon; 6th Avenue Romp featuring special guest appearances from guitarist Shuggie Otis, trumpeter Jon Faddis, trombonist George Bohanon, vocalist Brenna Bavis and percussionist Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers Band; and Heritage with special guest appearances from vocalist Marya Lawrence and trombonist George Bohanon. In September 2007, Hamilton released Hamiltonia sampling his original compositions from the four albums released in 2006.
Over the years, Hamilton had a series of dance successes, including his signature song “Conquistadors” from his 1960s Impulse album El Chico, and the Brazilian-influenced song “Strut” from his 1980 Elektra album Nomad, which became so successful on the Northern Soul scene in the U.K. that it had its own dance. In 2002 a track titled “For Mods Only” from his 1968 Impulse album The Dealer, was included on the Thievery Corporation’s Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi. In 2006, Rong Music released the 12″ vinyl Kerry’s Caravan from Mudd and Chico Hamilton, with remixes from long-term Idjut Boys collaborator and Fiasco imprint boss Ray Mang. And the recent Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked Remix Project features Mark De Clive-Lowe’s remix of Chico’s song “El Toro.” Released in December 2007 from SoulFeast (Joaquin “Joe” Claussell and Brian Michel Bacchus) is a 12″ single on 180 gram vinyl of their recasting of Chico’s track “Mysterious Maiden,” in 2008 from SoulFeast is a CD EP Chico Hamilton Presents: Alternative Dimensions of El Chico, and in 2009 a 12″ double vinyl version of Chico Hamilton Presents: Alternative Dimensions of El Chico.
Hamilton released Twelve Tones of Love on Joyous Shout! in 2009. From Maxwell Chandler’s liner notes: “Chico Hamilton looks back not as a summation but with the past as a jumping off point to where he is now; the foundation to build off of what he has to say in the here and now. This album has Chico writing for and playing with an enlarged ensemble, offering us a glimpse of his life’s journey and some of those he has shared it with.”
In March 2011, with his 90th birthday six months off, Hamilton trekked out of his New York City penthouse apartment to helm a marathon recording session resulting in 28 new tracks with his Euphoria group. No one woodsheds like a jazz drummer, and coming off a health setback during the Summer of 2010, Hamilton and his Euphoria group began sheding at weekly rehearsals at Hamilton’s Penthouse A. These weekly rehearsals played an important part in Hamilton’s rehabilitation, facilitated Hamilton and his group becoming very tight with each other and exploring places musically they had not previously gone together, and brought together a wealth of new original material, offered up in three courses, each of which is a different viewpoint of Hamilton’s Revelation. The Revelation EP on 10” vinyl, Hamilton’s very first recording as a leader, Chico Hamilton Trio in 1955 on Pacific Jazz with Howard Roberts & George Duvivier, was pressed up on 10” vinyl. So it seemed a fitting tribute to Hamilton’s longevity as a leader for a selection of his originals, two tracks of which are exclusive to this format, 58 years later to be presented in the same format.
The Revelation was an 11-track CD, which opens and closes with a focus on Hamilton at his drum kit, and in-between takes us on a different journey from both the melodic and rhythmic points of view. From the up-tempo Latin groove of “Evanly” with its vocal out chorus; the mid-tempo swing of “No Way LA” and “Ten Minutes To Twelve”; the Lunceford-like band vocals on “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”; to Hamilton’s vocalizing on “Every Time I Smile”; the pastoral melodic beauty of “You’re Not Alone”; the up-tempo funk of “Black Eyed Peas”; and the bossa funkiness of “Foot Prints in the Sand”. Hamilton died aged 92 on November 25, 2013, in Manhattan.
- September, 20, 1921
- Los Angeles, California
- November, 25, 2013
- Manhattan, New York