3:19 PM EST, November 26, 2013
Chico Hamilton, a sublimely understated jazz drummer and, for a time, a remarkably prominent one, died Monday in Manhattan, according to news reports. He was 92.
Hamilton, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, epitomized the “cool” school of West Coast jazz, thanks to his work in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet and his appearances leading the Chico Hamilton Quintet in the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success” and Bert Stern’s celebrated 1959 documentary “Jazz on a Summer’s Day.”
Born Foreststorn Hamilton, the drummer as a teen in L.A. played alongside such future stars as Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon and Illinois Jacquet. After military service from 1942 to ’46, Hamilton kept time for Count Basie and Lester Young before touring extensively with Lena Horne for many years starting in 1948.
The Chico Hamilton Quintet, which he established in 1955, became immensely popular, partly for its unconventional instrumentation: cello, flute, guitar, bass and drums. This ethereal music reflected a West Coast jazz esthetic, instantly seduced listeners and led to the aforementioned movie appearances. As bandleader, Hamilton helped launch the careers of Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter and Larry Coryell, among many others.
Hamilton branched into writing music for film, TV and radio in the 1960s, drawing attention for his score to the 1965 Roman Polanski film “Repulsion.”
He later taught at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York and performed and recorded nearly until the end of his life. His copious contributions to music earned him a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, widely considered the nation’s highest jazz honor.
“This award will enable me to continue to help young musicians to become professional musicians,” he said in an NEA interview. “I sincerely believe that music is one aof God’s Wills, and God’s will, will be done.”
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