On the 25th of November, the great jazz bandleader and drummer Chico Hamilton died at the age of 92. In addition to his various groups, he was also a composer, teacher, abettor of numerous up-and-coming players, and an all-around class-act. He left a large body of work behind to remember him by, but his greatest achievements on record were made with his Quintet of the 1950s.
It’s been a few years since I’ve watched it, but I can still vividly recall one of my favorite scenes from Jazz on a Summer’s Day, Bert Stern’s indispensible documentary covering the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It occurs early in the film but seems to be happening around dusk, though the timeframe is ambiguous in large part due to the moment taking place not on the festival’s stage or in the audience but in the attic of a nearby house.
In that setting, Chico Hamilton, mallets in hand, rehearses on his drums in preparation for his Quintet’s appearance later that evening. I’m fairly certain a cigarette is clasped between his lips, though I wouldn’t wager anything substantial on that recollection. Without a shadow of a doubt though, Hamilton is practicing shirtless.