Jazz maestro and trombonist Slide Hampton has died aged 89

On November 15, jazz trombonist, conductor, arranger and composer Locksley Wellington Hampton, universally known as “Slide” Hampton, passed away at his home in central New Jersey. Hampton was a famous figure in jazz, with a rich musical career spanning the 1940s until his death. His life and work bridged a generation-to-generation gap between the early pioneers of jazz and musicians around the world.

Sadly, Hampton did not receive the praise it was due in its prime. The heyday of the “traditional” jazz genre with which it was associated had passed years earlier. The dominance of vocal pop music in the 1960s, as well as the emergence of less structured forms of jazz improvisation denied it the possibility of widespread popularity.

Slide Hampton, Jazzmobile concert, Rochester, NY, August 1978 (Flickr / Tom Marcello)

In comparison to the monumental fame achieved by a few of his jazz peers, Hampton has remained something of an anomaly or underdog, staunchly refusing to give in to musical trends he disagreed with. Later in his life, however, he was well received by the public and cultural institutions in the United States as a renewed interest in his type of jazz took place.

Like other influential figures in American jazz history, Hampton felt compelled at one point in his career to move to Europe – in his case, for most of a decade, from the late 1960s. in the late 1970s. He spoke favorably of the ubiquity of public funding for the arts in European countries, which allowed him greater freedom of musical exploration than did the competitive and high commercial atmosphere. pressure in the United States.

While many jazz expats remained in Europe, Hampton eventually returned, seeing an opportunity in changing attitudes towards jazz. During this period, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began to honor and subsidize jazz music and musicians. Between returning to the United States and 2005, Hampton won two Grammy Awards and received an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship. He was also involved in several projects for the cultural divisions of the United Nations in the latter part of his career.

Hampton was born in Jeannette, in southwestern Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1932 to a large and musical family. As was not uncommon in the early days of jazz history, his parents ran a family band that earned an income touring the Eastern and Midwestern states. Her 12 siblings included Dawn Hampton, who later became a famous New York cabaret singer, Virtue Hampton Whitted, a jazz singer, and Aletra Hampton, a jazz pianist and singer. (Famous jazz vibraphonist and conductor Lionel Hampton was a distant cousin.)

In the late 1930s, the Hampton family moved to Indianapolis in search of opportunities. The city had become a hub of African-American cultural and musical life. Locksley took the trombone out of necessity as there were no other trombonists in his family, and the instrument had been wanted for the act. During World War II, the ensemble took a break. In 1945, Clarke “Deacon” Hampton, the father of the family, retired and transferred responsibility for the operation to his son Duke.

In the early 1950s, the family group Hampton was booking engagements at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, and the Savoy Ballroom. Inspired by hearing bebop pioneer and pianist Bud Powell perform at Birdland on 52nd Street, Slide made the decision to move to New York permanently. He played in the Lionel Hampton orchestra for a short time, then in the Buddy Johnson and Maynard Ferguson ensembles for several years. While in New York City, he began to find work with a multitude of major figures in jazz history, including JJ Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and Melba Liston. .

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hampton led a byte whose roster included trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Booker Little, tenor saxophonist George Coleman, and drummer Pete La Roca, among others. His first record as a bandleader was released on Strand Records in 1959 and was titled “Slide Hampton and His Horn of Plenty”. He had a penchant for arrangements that used large spaces between the voices of wind instruments and a uniform type of harmony that created the sonic illusion of a larger ensemble than it actually was.

“In Art Blakey’s group, they wrote things in a more open harmony, so it sounded bigger,” Hampton said in an interview in 2000. “The trumpet can be an octave above the tenor, and the trombone can be one-sixth apart from the tenor, so you have those big intervals. When you have that kind of open harmony, you get harmonics and it gives a full sound. It sounds big… And I remember some of the stuff that was written in some of the big bands… It sounded full and big and it wasn’t even half of the whole… So if you take six horns and use the same kind of concept, you get a really big sound.

Most of Hampton’s discography as a conductor has been recorded in Europe, where he has worked closely with the expatriate jazz community mainly in Paris, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. During this time he collaborated with Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Art Farmer, Don Byas, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Drew, Benny Bailey and Ben Webster, to name a few. His work from this period refines and develops the concepts of orchestration he had developed earlier in New York.

Upon his return to the United States, he continued to perform and record as a leader and sideman, although his work as a leader remained mostly on European labels. He also began teaching at Harvard, DePaul University, University of Massachusetts, and Indiana State University. He also bonded with a younger generation of musicians, as well as peers with whom he had not yet worked closely. These included Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Heath, McCoy Tyner and Dizzy Gillespie.

Later in life, Hampton became a close mentor to young aspiring jazz musicians. His reputation as a serious artist and human being inspired those close to him. His colleagues knew he practiced diligently for several hours a day and felt he had little tolerance for musicians who did not demonstrate similar discipline. As an arranger he was deeply aware of the history and traditions of his instrument. As an instrumentalist, his technique was extraordinarily refined to suit every musical situation he encountered. As an improviser, his overall concept was precise, systematic and in-depth, never adventurous or overconfident.

Hampton admitted that he had never managed to balance “commerce” with his artistic and musical concerns. This admirable shortcoming, which certainly put him at a disadvantage for a living (at least in the US market), helped him prioritize crafting good music over commercial considerations. Although he never shied away from commercialism or popularity, he was convinced that musical factors should always come first in the artistic process. The young musicians of tomorrow will do well to immerse themselves in his life and his work.

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