Guitarist Ed Hamilton believes that there is a place for a happy blending of old and new in the jazz that he plays. You can see that in the musicians he’s gathered around him for his first album and in the way traditional rhythms and sonorities co-exist in many of the tunes he writes. And when you learn about his background, you see how it all fits together and makes sense.
Hamilton grew up outside of Philadelphia, a city that has long been a hot bed of jazz activity—the birthplace of giants, the home of great venues and a center for some very special educational opportunities. He grew up, of course, with rock and roll, but also took the opportunity to listen to his father’s big band record collection. Ellington, Basie, Herman and the like were part of his earliest listening and he even got his parents to take him to the dance halls they frequented. “I not only made them bring me,” he says, “but I would make them get the front row table so I could sit right in front of the musicians, usually the rhythm section. Man, I would sit there diggin’ it all.”
Ed’s interest in music was soon translated into learning and playing—as a multi-instrumentalist—in high school. In his senior year, when called on to choose a major course of study for college, he decided he would concentrate on the guitar.
Jazz guitar soon became his passion at the University of Arts in Philadelphia and the Manhattan School of Music in New York. He was soon faced with something of a conflict in his given area. “It seemed that there were only two camps from which to choose in jazz guitar. One was bebop and the other was fusion and I learned both. But somehow no one was really writing the kind of material I wanted to play. So I began to compose and play what was in my head.”
That music was not completely straight-ahead nor was it fusion. It was melodic music, acoustic-based, but with synthesizer textures. The rhythms were rooted in swing and the big band music Ed heard as a kid, but they were enhanced and augmented by the hand-drum percussion of other cultures. The compositions on Planet Jazz, then, are deeply in reverence for the tradition while at the same time embracing the ways music, and by extension, the whole culture have evolved.
Ed Hamilton has been lucky enough to cross paths with musicians—especially around Philadelphia—that have supported his work and even welcomed the opportunity to play with him. Those contacts blossomed into appearances on Ed’s album by some of the major figures of contemporary jazz.
This musical camaraderie led to Ed’s stint as a featured guitarist for Special EFX. He toured with the popular jazz group through 1996.