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Chico Hamilton at 90: Still the Circus Master

Radio host Russ Davis reflects on his recent interview with the legendary drummer

Chico Hamilton
Chico Hamilton

The first time I interviewed Forestorn “Chico” Hamilton, the renowned drummer, composer, bandleader, NEA jazz master and living jazz legend, in his penthouse apartment in New York overlooking the East River and the UN it was 1999. He was in his late 70’s and still going strong with a hot, new release titled Timely, leading his great band of young players called Euphoria in concerts all over the world and teaching at the New School in Manhattan. I asked him about his incredible drive and enormous output and he told me…”I didn’t come to see the circus…I AM the circus!”

Recently, I returned to visit Chico to celebrate his 90th birthday, September 20th, and talk about the three new releases with which he’ll celebrate this milestone in an incredible career in jazz that has spanned over 7 decades. Chico never does anything in a small way. I remember how he celebrated his 85th birthday in 2006 with 6 separate albums. The circus is still in town, and Chico is the ringmaster. Just ask him, as I did. He’s rightfully proud of his past, his output and his longevity, all of which have been marked by a unique vision of how he could express himself through jazz, create his own musical language, and bring every project to fruition and ultimate success with a combination of talent and an indomitable sense of drive that would make Madonna or Lady Gaga take notes. He may be 90, a time when the physical body seems to lose contact with the mind and spirit a bit, but the man has not lost his wit, wisdom and ability to recall the people and places he’s been or the things he’s achieved. An hour with Chico is time well spent from both an informational as well as an entertainment standpoint.

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