Hampton Hawes (November 13, 1928 – May 22, 1977) was an African American jazz pianist.
The highly regarded bebop pianist Hampton Hawes was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His father, Hampton Hawes, Sr., was minister of the Westminster Presbysterian Church, and his mother was the church pianist. Hawes was reported to have been able to pick out fairly complex tunes on the piano at the age of two. Entirely self-taught, by his teens Hawes was playing with some of the best jazz musicians on the West Coast, including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Sonny Criss, and Art Pepper. His second professional job, at 19, was playing for eight months with the Howard McGhee Quintet at the Hi De Ho club, in a group that included Charlie Parker.
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After serving in the army in Japan from 1952-1954, Hawes formed his own trio, with the bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson. The three-record Trio sessions made by this group in 1955 on Contemporary Records were considered some of the best records to come out of the West Coast at the time. The next year, Hawes added guitarist Jim Hall for the All Night Sessions - three records made during a non-stop recording session at the Contemporary Studios in Los Angeles. After a six-month national tour in 1956, Hawes won the 'New Star of the Year' award in a Down Beat magazine poll, and 'Arrival of the Year' in Metronome. The following year, Hawes would record in New York with Charles Mingus, on the album Mingus Three (1957, Roulette.)
Struggling for many years with a heroin addiction, Hawes was arrested in 1958 on his 30th birthday for selling a small amount of heroin to an undercover federal agent, and was sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison hospital. In 1961, Hawes was watching President Kennedy's inaugural speech on television in prison when he became convinced that Kennedy would pardon him. In an almost miraculous turn, Kennedy granted Hawes Executive Clemency in 1963, the 42nd of only 43 such pardons issued in the final year of Kennedy's presidency.
After his release, Hawes resumed playing and recording. During a world tour in 1967-68, he was surprised to discover that he had become a legend among jazz listeners in Europe and Japan. During a ten-month period overseas Hawes recorded nine albums, including two duo records with the virtuoso French pianist Martial Solal. In the 1970s, Hawes experimented with electronic music (Fender-Rhodes made a special instrument for him), although eventually he returned to making acoustic music.
Raise Up Off Me, Hawes' autobiography (written with Don Asher) was published in 1974, and shed light on his heroin addiction, the bebop movement, and his friendships with some of the best jazz musicians of his time. The book won the prestigious ASCAP Deems-Taylor Award for music writing in 1975; The Penguin Guide to Jazz calls Raise Up Off Me, "one of the most moving memoirs ever written by a musician, and a classic of jazz writing." A (128pp) Hampton Hawes Biography/Discography was published in England in 1987, co-authored by Roger Hunter and Mike Davis.
As a pianist Hawes's style is instantly recognizable - for its almost unparalleled swing, sophisticated approach to harmony, and range of emotional expression, particularly in a blues context. Hawes influenced a great number of other pianists including André Previn, Oscar Peterson, Claude Williamson, Pete Jolly, Toshiko Akiyoshi and others. Hawes' own influences came from a number of sources, including the spirituals he heard in his father's church as a child, and the boogie-woogie piano of Earl Hines. He also learned much from pianists Bud Powell and Nat King Cole among others; his principal source of influence though, was his friend Charlie Parker.
Hampton Hawes died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in 1977, at only 48 years old. In 2004, the City Council of Los Angeles passed a resolution declaring November 13th 'Hampton Hawes Day' throughout the City of Los Angeles.