Hampton Hawes

Anyone genuinely interested in the story of Hampton Hawes should read his autobiography, Raise Up Off Me (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan), which he wrote in conjunction with Don Asher. The book is simply brilliant. Although plagued with an inflation-dominated $7.95 list price, Raise Up Off Me is quickly becoming an underground sensation and should be read by anyone who claims an interest in this music we call jazz.

Hamp’s story is phenomenal. Raised in a strict, religious environment, Hamp taught himself piano as a child. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing professionally. His enormous talent brought him into contact with great players, not the least of whom was Charlie Parker. Hamp played with Charlie, Billie Holiday, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, and Art Pepper and Shorty Rogers.

Most of the people Hamp knew as a young man were heroin addicts. Hamp soon followed, although Billie did try to dissuade him. Why did he ever try it in the first place? “You see everybody going down the street in a green Buick, and you start thinking, ‘What is it with these green Buicks?’ You know, you just got to find out for yourself. Well, I found out all right. I sure did.” Hamp’s stint in the Army doing duty in the Far East furthered the addiction.

In 1955, after the Army, Hampton cut several brilliant albums for the Contemporary label in Los Angeles. His talent has always been recognized; his addiction always ruined everything.

In 1958, Hampton Hawes was in jail in Fort Worth, Texas, serving a ten-year sentence. Halfway through the term, Hamp accomplished the impossible. He applied for a presidential pardon from John F. Kennedy and got it. As Hamp says: “That man was the President, and he’s supposed to be keeping everything straight. He saw that the judge had written me onto the wrong page. I wasn’t no criminal; I was just hurting myself! JFK got me out, and I’m not hurting myself anymore.”

The road back has not been easy for Hampton. It has taken about five years to regain his position as a leader amongst jazz pianists. The Hampton Hawes trio works together on the West Coast regularly. He has had three successful albums on Prestige, the last of which was recorded at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

This album, Northern Windows, is Hampton’s fourth album for Prestige, and it is, without a doubt, his best work to date. David Axelrod produced the LP, which features a highly talented and very beautiful lady bassist, Carol Kaye. Hawes and Axelrod immediately hit it off. They were both raised in the same section of Los Angeles and discovered many mutual friends. But no one at the Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone studios had seen Hampton looking so good, so ebullient, so happy, as he did that day he played back the tapes of this album. In Hamp’s words: “This motherfucker is a bitch! This Axelrod is too much! This is it!’’

No doubt there will be much more to hear from Hampton Hawes, but Northern Windows is the definitive statement about how high this amazing man is.

Hampton Hawes died on May 22, 1977.