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Drummer and Bandleader Chico Hamilton Dies at 92

A major force on the jazz scene for more than seven decades

Chico Hamilton
Chico Hamilton

Drummer Chico Hamilton, whose career stretched back more than 70 years, died last night (Nov. 25) in New York City. He was 92 and died of natural causes, according to his publicist, April Thibeault. An NEA Jazz Master, Hamilton served behind dozens of the all-time greats in jazz, but he spent most of his time leading his own groups, releasing more than 60 albums as a leader beginning in the 1950s, and creating music for film and television. Described on the NEA’s website as a “subtle, creative drummer,” Hamilton was also an educator, having taught at the New School University Jazz Program for more than 20 years.

Born Foreststorn Hamilton on Sept. 20, 1921 in Los Angeles, Hamilton first played clarinet before switching to drums. In high school, he formed a band whose membership also included Ernie Royal, Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Collette, Dexter Gordon and Jack Kelso. In the 1940s, Hamilton accompanied Lionel Hampton, Slim and Slam, Lester Young, T-Bone Walker, Duke Ellington and others. While serving in the Army from 1942-46, he studied drums with Jo Jones and upon his release he toured with Count Basie and others. In 1948 he joined Lena Horne, with whom he stayed for six years.

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