Hampton Hawes - piano; Denny Dias - guitar; Carol Kaye - electric bass; Al Williams - drums
A key player on Central Avenue, Los Angeles' equivalent to the fabled bebop strip of 52nd Street back in New York, pianist Hampton Hawes accompanied the likes of sax greats Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, and Teddy Edwards during the mid-to-late 1940s. A member of trumpeter Howard McGhee's band from 1950 to 1951, he also played with Shorty Rogers and the Lighthouse All-Stars before serving a stint in the Army from 1952 to 1954. After being discharged from the service, he led his own trios around Los Angeles while also recording for the LA-based Contemporary label. His career, which was in ascendance at that point, came to a screeching halt in November of 1958, when he was arrested for heroin possession. After serving five years in jail (he was granted a presidential pardon by JFK in 1963, just three months before he was assassinated), Hawes returned to the scene with renewed energy and ideas, leading his own trios through the '60s and experimenting with electric piano in the early '70s.
This 1976 Great American Music Hall appearance came a year after he had performed at the prestigious San Francisco venue in a duo setting with bassist Mario Suraci and two years after the publication of his revealing autobiography, Raise Up Off Me. Hawes stretches out considerably here on some probing vehicles in the company of guitarist Denny Dias and drummer Al Williams, both of whom were part of Hawes' working quartet around this time. The electric bassist is probably Carole Kaye, the Los Angeles-based session player who recorded with Hawes during the mid-'70s.
They open this GAMH concert with the mysterious modal number "Spanish Mood," which is underscored by a Latin flavored electric bass groove from Carol Kaye and includes some intuitive exchanges between Hawes and Dias. The guitarist, a charter member of Steely Dan who also studied with jazz guitar great Billy Bauer, turns in a stellar solo on this evocative Hawes original. Next up is "The Sermon," a midtempo swinger with a gospel-tinged head reminiscent of Bobby Timmons' anthemic "Moanin'." Kaye lays down insistent walking bass lines here, locking in with Williams' ride cymbal groove to provide the swinging momentum here. Hawes turns in a facile, blues-inflected solo with some rolling gospel cadences along the way, and guitarist Dias unleashes a flowing, fleet-fingered, harmonically sophisticated solo that will make aficionados sit up and take notice. Kaye also turns in an impressive bass solo on this old school swinger.
Hawes' highly impressionistic rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon," the jazz standard so closely associated with Frank Sinatra, opens with some rhapsodic solo piano before segueing to a blithely swinging waltz-time section with the quartet. Williams is on brushes here while Kaye walks lightly through the changes on electric bass, and Dias turns in another persuasively swinging solo in which he navigates the harmonic contour of the piece with jazzy aplomb, sounding more like a Joe Diorio or Joe Pass than the guitarist who played the stinging solo on Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva" from Countdown to Ecstasy.
"Pablito" is a driving Hawes original with a Spanish theme from the live Something Special album recorded just two months earlier at the Douglas Beach House in Half Moon Bay, California, with Dias on guitar, Williams on drums, and Leroy Vinnegar on upright bass. Dias explores this piece in more depth here than he does on the album, providing some six-string sparks along the way. They round out their set with an open-ended piece that Hawes calls "Nice Meanderings," which alludes to both "Sunny" and "Here's That Rainy Day" in the opening solo piano section before the full band joins in on the affecting bossa nova melody. Dias outdoes himself here, nonchalantly doubling the time on his lyrical solo. Kaye also turns in a melodic solo on electric bass. They close out the set in spirited fashion with the jaunty "BD & DS Blues," which also appeared on Something Special. Kaye sets the pace with her insistent walking bass lines while Williams provides the swinging ride cymbal pulse underneath. Hawes digs in and solos like he's back on Central Avenue in the late '40s, jamming with the cats. Dias follows with another facile bebop solo, dropping in a sly quote from Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" before ending in a chordal flurry.
While Hawes was in peak form for this 1976 concert at the Great American Music Hall, he died just nine months later from a severe heart attack on May 22, 1977, at age 48.
Born on November 13, 1928, the son a Presbyterian minister in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Hawes took up piano as a youngster. His first lessons were with his mother, the church pianist at his father's congregation. First inspired by boogie woogie players like Albert Ammons, he eventually gravitated to more elegant jazz stylists like Teddy Wilson and Nat Cole as well as the bebop virtuosos Bud Powell and Art Tatum. Charlie Parker, whom he would later play with on Central Avenue, also exerted a huge influence on the developing young player. He formed a band with his high school pal, alto saxophonist Sonny Criss, and later played professionally with honking saxophonist Big Jay McNeely. His own first recordings, cut in 1955 for Lester Koenig's Contemporary label, were firmly rooted in bebop and indebted to Bud Powell. Hawes was named Down Beat's New Star for 1956, and he followed with solid, swinging recordings for Contemporary that featured such stellar players as guitarists Barney Kessel and Jim Hall, bassists Red Mitchell and Scott LaFaro, and drummers Shelly Manne and Frank Butler. In 1957, he also played on a classic Charles Mingus album Mingus Three with drummer Dannie Richmond. His recorded output in his post-incarceration years is less distinguished, though it includes some noteworthy sessions as a sideman with trumpeter Art Farmer, two stellar duets with bassist Charlie Haden, and several recordings with his own trio. Hawes dabbled in electric keyboards from 1972 to 1974, returning to an acoustic piano format in 1975 and releasing a few more albums with his trio and quartet in his final year. (Milkowski)