Jazz Great Chico Hamilton Dies at 92

Chico Hamilton Dead Obit
David Redfern/Redferns

Jazz drummer and bandleader Chico Hamilton, who played with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne and Duke Ellington before forming his own popular quintet, died on Nov. 25 in New York. He was 92.

Though primarily associated with the cool jazz scene of his native Los Angeles, Hamilton experimented with a wide array of styles over more than 60 albums as a bandleader. A high school classmate of Charles Mingus, with whom he played as a teenager, Hamilton had already notched sessions with a number of jazz greats – including Hampton, Count Basie and Lester Young – by the time he reached his mid-20s.

After several tours of duty backing Horne and playing in Gerry Mulligan’s quintet, Hamilton in 1955 assembled the Chico Hamilton Quintet, featuring Buddy Collette on various reeds and Fred Katz on cello. Playing cool jazz with classical flourishes, the group enjoyed several years of wide popularity, appearing in 1957 film “The Sweet Smell of Success.” The band gradually evolved into a more progressive act, and 1959’s “Three Faces of Chico,” featuring a young Eric Dolphy, was a particularly significant collection.

In the 1960s, Hamilton moved to New York and began composing music for television and advertising, eventually dissolving his quintet. He also tried his hand at film scoring, most notably penning the soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.” He continued touring and recording with a variety of collaborators all the way until his 90th  birthday, releasing the album “Revelation” in 2011.

A longtime educator, Hamilton taught for several decades at New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2004 and a Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend in 2007.

According to the New York Times, Hamilton is survived by a brother, a daughter, a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.

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