Hampton 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 direct descendant of bebop who had been variously classified as “West Coast” and “funk-jazz” or “rhythm school,” Hawes transcended all these categories.
When Hawes tore into his solos, it was as if the piano had a life of its own; it was a performance that scorched. These were moments to be long remembered by those attending. One listener, a well-known drummer, commented: “It’s about time we had a real piano player back”
Hawes was a master at constructing solos beginning with a phrase and gradually building, drawing the listener in. When he reached the peak of his energy he was at a level few outside of Bud Powell could approach.
Hampton Hawes was a significant presence on the jazz scene in the mid- 50′s then again from the mid-60′s on until his death in 1977. 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, five years in prison and a miraculous Presidential pardon, then a personal transformation and return to world-wide artistic prominence for a decade before his early death.
Hampton Hawes states, “I want to make music so beautiful it’s like hugging in the forest at night, rise to the occasion and maybe go right over it ’cause my energy’s burning – and I can make it with nothing but my brains and my hands and my heart. And when that stops beating I’ll know I pressed it to the limit and be ready to go down happy.”