West Coast jazz drummer, composer and educator Chico Hamilton, who attended high school with Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon and went on to play with the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie before launching his own influential band in the mid-1950s, died on Monday. He was 92.
A message on the drummer's Facebook page notes that Hamilton died in New York City but does not list a cause. "We're saddened by his passing but are grateful and blessed for the grand musical legacy he left with us," it reads.
The Los Angeles native began his career in his teens and by 20 he appeared alongside Fred Astaire in the 1941 film, "You'll Never Get Rich." As a sideman, Hamilton performed with jazz giants including Gerry Mulligan, Lester Young and Lionel Hamilton. He spent six years keeping time for Lena Horne, and also played with other popular singers like Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Billie Holiday.
In 1955, Hamilton struck out on his own as a bandleader, releasing over 60 albums over the years. His band featured many artists who went on to highly influential careers of their own, including saxophonist Eric Dolphy, guitarist Gabor Szabo and flautist Paul Horn.
Described as a "subtle and creative drummer" by AllMusic's Scott Yanow, Hamilton's evolving band was not limited to any particular style of jazz, though he usually worked within the frameworks of cool, West Coast sounds, and his music often touched progressive jazz, hard pop, post-bop and jazz-funk.
In the mid-1960s Hamilton moved to New York City and formed a production company that created scores for TV and film as well as hundreds of commercials. He later helped found the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program in New York City and was dubbed a Living Jazz Legend by the Kennedy Center.
Even in his nineties, Hamilton continued to perform live and record, releasing three albums in 2011 on the Joyous Shout! label. In October his Euphoria ensemble recorded new material for an album to be released in early 2014.