National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Chico Hamilton
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 2004 NEA Jazz Master Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton, who was not only a subtle, creative drummer, but also a skillful bandleader who continually discovered talented newcomers.
As a teenager, Hamilton played regularly with a band that included Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, and Illinois Jacquet. He joined Lena Horne's band in 1948 and was an original member of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
In 1955, he formed the Chico Hamilton Quintet. One of the important West Coast bands, the quintet made their film debut in the movie The Sweet Smell of Success, as well as highlighting Jazz on a Summer's Day. Over the years, Hamilton's bands had various personnel, but the quality of the musicianship remained high. Some of the players Hamilton nurtured in his bands include Jim Hall, Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, Arthur Blythe, Larry Coryell, and John Abercrombie.
During the 1960s, Hamilton formed a company to score feature films and commercials for broadcast and in 1987, he formed a new quartet called Euphoria. Never one to rest on his laurels, Hamilton released four new albums in 2006 in celebration of his 85th birthday. In 2007, he was a member of the NEA's National Council on the Arts, the advisory body for the agency.
In a 2003 NEA interview with Molly Murphy, Chico said of his playing, "You create a mood. That's the only thing you can do—the music's already here. It's been here. It's all around us. So what you do, you take a little bit of this, a soupçon of that, and you put it together and you create a mood. That's all we can do."