Slide Hampton, a jazz trombonist, songwriter and arranger who arrived on the scene at the end of the bebop era and remained in demand for decades after, was found dead Saturday at his home in Orange, NJ. He was 89 years old.
His grandson Richard Hampton has confirmed the death.
Mr. Hampton made a name for himself in the late 1950s with groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and others. He was considered a triple threat – not only a virtuoso trombonist, but also the creator of memorable compositions and arrangements.
He won Grammy Awards for his arrangements in 1998 and in 2005 the same year the National Endowment for the Arts named him Jazz Master.
During the 1980s, Mr. Hampton led a group called World of Trombones, which consisted of up to nine trombones and a rhythm section. Big brassy jazz was no longer in vogue at the time, but by then he had become an older jazz statesman, and he was able to insist on bringing his whole band to clubs. more interested in small, intimate groups. Once in the door, he was almost always a hit.
He was also a staple on college campuses, teaching composition and theory to the next generation of jazz musicians and instilling in them a respect for jazz – and the trombone – that went far beyond music.
“Playing the trombone makes you realize that you are going to have to depend on other people,” Mr. Hampton told The New York Times in 1982. “If you need help, you can’t abuse other people. why there is a real sense of camaraderie among trombonists.
Locksley Wellington Hampton was born April 21, 1932 in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. He was the youngest of 12 children, and his parents, Clarke and Laura (Buford) Hampton, recruited most of them to be part of the family group they led; Locksley joined as a singer and dancer when he was just 6 years old.
In 1938, the family moved to Indianapolis in search of more work. The city had a thriving jazz scene, and they were soon touring the Midwest.
They never ran out of gigs, but they were missing a trombone player, a deficit which the elder Mr. Hampton remedied by handing the instrument over to his youngest son at age 12 and teaching him to play. He got down to the instrument – no easy task for a child – and it didn’t take long for him to earn the nickname Slide.
Mr. Hampton studied at a local conservatory, but most of his music education came from his family and other musicians. He was especially won over by JJ Johnson, the leading trombonist of the sophisticated jazz school known as bebop, who lived in Indianapolis. He later recalled one night when he was standing outside a club with his instrument, too young to enter, and Mr Johnson walked past. Mr Johnson was supposed to play that night, but he didn’t have his trombone. Locksley gave him hers.
Mr. Hampton then adapted several of Mr. Johnson’s compositions. He has kept one of them, “Lament”, in his repertoire for decades.
After his father’s death in 1951, the family group was run by Locksley’s brother Duke. In 1952, the group won a competition to play at Carnegie Hall, opening act for Lionel Hampton (no relationship).
In New York City, Mr. Hampton and one of his brothers traveled to Birdland, the legendary jazz club, where they saw bebop pianist Bud Powell play. This experience, he said later, marked him much more than playing Carnegie.
Mr. Hampton married Althea Gardner in 1948; they divorced in 1997. He is survived by his brother Maceo; his children, Jacquelyn, Lamont and Locksley Jr .; five grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. His son Grégoire died before him.
The Hampton family band then returned to New York to perform at the Apollo Theater, and Slide urged them to move to the city. When they opposed, he made his own plans.
A friend recommended a once-a-week gig in Houston, and Mr. Hampton jumped at the chance. It was well enough paid that he could use the rest of the week to study and compose.
In 1955, rhythm and blues pianist Buddy Johnson recruited him for his group and he moved to New York. A year later he joined Lionel Hampton’s group, and a year later he joined Maynard Ferguson’s. He composed some of the Ferguson’s best-known pieces, including “The Fugue” and “Three Little Foxes”.
Mr. Hampton found himself in great demand and went out on his own in 1962 as the leader of the Hampton Octet Slide. Although this group only lasted for a year – he later said he had done a poor job as a leader – it dramatically increased its visibility.
As a leader, Mr. Hampton was humble. He often took his place in the audience after playing a solo so as not to overshadow the other band members when their turn came. Once, when a TV crew showed up to film the group, he cut his solo short to make sure everyone was allowed to shoot the camera.
In the early 1960s, he bought a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, which quickly became a hotspot for jam sessions and a crash pad for some of the country’s top musicians. Saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Eric Dolphy and guitarist Wes Montgomery all lived there for a while.
After breaking his byte, Mr. Hampton worked as a Music Director for Motown Records, collaborating on productions for Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops and others. There he encountered first-hand the growing popularity of pop and R&B and concluded that jazz was being excluded from the American music scene. After touring Europe in 1968 with Woody Herman, he moved to Paris, where he found not only a thriving jazz audience but also public grants that supported music.
“The conditions and respect for the artist in Europe were so incredible that I was overwhelmed,” Mr. Hampton told The Times in 1982. “They considered jazz to be an art form in Europe long before they did. don’t do it here.
He returned to America in 1977, initially to write arrangements for saxophonist Dexter Gordon, himself recently returned from Europe. By this time, the place of jazz had changed – the majors were interested, government grants became available, and colleges were adding jazz to the curriculum.
Mr. Hampton was once again in demand as a musician – and now also as an educator. Over the following decades, he taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, DePaul University in Chicago, and elsewhere. And he continued to perform in New York venues throughout the 2010s.
When asked what accounts for his success over such a long career, Mr Hampton insisted it wasn’t just talent, but practice too – he trained four to five. hours a day and would do even more if he had time.
“Anything that’s really good takes a lot of work,” he said in a 2007 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts. “The things that come easily are not associated with the highest level of quality. “