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Hampton Hawes

Who Was Hampton Hawes?

Although one rarely hears of Hampton Hawes today he was a significant presence on the jazz scene in the mid- 50s then again from the mid-60s on until his death in 1977. A direct descendant of bebop who had been variously classified as “West Coast” and “funk-jazz” or “rhythm school,” Hawes transcended all these categories. He was famous for his prodigious right hand, his deep groove, his very personal playing, his profound blues conceptions, and his versatility within a mainstream context. He remained anchored in chord-change based jazz with chord changes his whole career.

A mostly self-taught musician, he matured early musically and late personally-by his own admission. His life unfolded as an impassioned story of a rise from poverty into prominence, then a fall due to a heroin addiction, which had come right out of his native culture, five years in prison and a miraculous Presidential pardon, then personal transformation and return to world-wide artistic prominence for a decade before his early death.


Hampton Hawes was born in Los Angeles, November 13, 1928. His father was a very successful pastor and his mother played piano in the church. Hampton was raised in a strict religious environment. As a child he would sit on the piano bench next to his mother and watch her play. His earliest musical influence, therefore, was gospel piano music. The street environment was not a particularly wholesome. He later reflected that most of the people he knew in his neighborhood growing up were heroin addicts.

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