Black History Month: Hampton Hawes

In 1977 Hampton Hawes, a woefully underrated pianist, composer and writer, died at the age of 48 from a brain hemorrhage. Known only to the most astute jazz musician and aficionados, Hawes had accomplished a great deal to be considered a bonafide jazz legend. His brief time here included performances with Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards (another criminally underrated black artist) and Howard Mcgee in a band that also counted Charlie Parker among its members. After military service, Hawes toured extensively during the mid ’50s and was recognized by Downbeat Magazine as a “New Star of the Year.”

Beset by an all-too-common heroin addiction, Hawes was arrested in a sting operation and sentenced to twice the mandatory minimum sentence for opiate possession. In 1961, while serving time, he wrote a letter to President Kennedy, the result of which was that he was the second-to-last person granted executive clemency by JFK before his assassination.

During the ’70s Hawes wrote an autobigraphy called “Raise Up Off Me” that was heralded by critics as one of the greatest ever literary contributions by a musician. And in 2004 his posthumous reputation continued to grow, as Los Angeles declared November 13th “Hampton Hawes Day” in honor of his birthday.

With lapped shoulder seam, Hawes is pictured above on his 1964 album “The Green Leaves of Summer,” and can be heard below performing “All The Things You Are.” — JASON MARSHALL

14 Comments on "Black History Month: Hampton Hawes"

  1. Christian, this is a little much with the black history month. I mean, c’mon, we do not really need to hear about it every week.

    If we talk about race we make racism worse.

    Racism is so tempting because if I get to say, “Hey, here’s me and my group and we’re great and your group isn’t as good as my group.” That’s a very se-duc-tive feeling, you know what I mean?

    Then I don’t have to do anything to be better I can just say I am better by the virtue of my race.

    Enough already…

  2. …..You have to blind yourself to the reality of people’s skin color.

  3. Michael Mattis | February 27, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    What’s se-duc-tive is learning something new, which I did with this post about Mr. Hawes’ music.

  4. Joseph, this was the third in a series of posts and you can rejoice that the month is over. I’ll be sure to post a white person on the site tomorrow.

    Waitaminute, I think I have some cute Japanese cartoon illustrations somewhere….

  5. D.B. McWeeberton | February 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm |

    I’m sure Joseph is upset that it’s leap year and he has one-extra-damn-day! of Black History Month to endure.

    Also, I wanted to note that Hamp was the pianist on many integrated West Coast jazz albums in the 50s, like this one:

  6. As a follower of blues and jazz, Black History month rocks. The ‘obscure yet talented’ musicians really increase my musical knowledge. Certainly Chris Miller writes about the early black rock and roll bands as well as jazz men of his era when a student at Dartmouth.

  7. Nice post Christian. Learned about an artist I otherwise would have never come across.

  8. Hi Christian,

    “Long time reader, first time poster”. What’s up with most Postings of Color being “jazz” or historically-related? Is making an artist of a person of color creating a safe distance between one’s self and The Other? A depersonalization that makes one not feel threatened or uncomfortable (or start a flame war in the comments section)?

    I’m both trolling and over-thinking actions of the internet, but I’m being sincere when telling you that I really enjoyed this post and discovering new music through your blog. (I also really enjoyed The Black Ivy post, a contemporary and a realistic portrayal).

    Despite most style blogs being philistine garbage like WASP 101 or slathered in “pink and green”, yours is among the best for lurking and adapting sartorial choices.

  9. I would like to thank Mr. Marshall for these wonderful jazz profiles. This site is fortunate to have someone of his standing in the Jazz community contributing to this site.

  10. ‘If we talk about race we make racism worse.’ Nonsense, it’s through discussion that we learn and evolve. Caveat: the discussion must be respectful i.e. no offensive or insulting language, which obviously could make racism worse.

    (Not that I’m expecting offensive or insulting language re. race on this forum, I hasten to add.)

  11. Charlottesville | February 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm |

    Mr. Marshall – Thanks for your well written post, including the delightful embedded version of “All The Things You Are.”

    Dutch Uncle and Christian – I am very glad I didn’t see the deleted comment if it was even worse than some of those that remain.

  12. MacMcConnell | February 9, 2020 at 3:12 pm |

    I find the Dawes story interesting, but how is a pianist underrated when he is on 30+ albums and recordings, has a award winning Autobiography, a LA day named for him and a JFK pardon?

    I think you mean folks not jazz enthusiast or too young to know are ignorant of his existence. But thanks for the article.

  13. Jonathan Sanders | February 10, 2020 at 9:00 am |

    Love Hampton Hawes! Particularly his version of Autumn in New York!

  14. I’d never heard HH before. His style is a bit eclectic, i.e., a touch of classical, a touch of easy listening (commercial), and a touch of jazz. As he was not a purist, he was probably considered to be a bit of a sell-out, and therefore “underrated”.

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