Podcast 867: A Conversation with Jeff Hamilton

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By Jeffrey Siegel. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Sometimes a Christmas jazz album is more than just a holiday treat. That’s the way I heard Merry and Bright, the latest release from drummer Jeff Hamilton and his trio, bassist Jon Hamar and pianist Tamir Hendelman (Capri Records). Sure the classic tunes of the holiday are there, and there are a few more obscure tunes as well. But once the trio gets things going, the result is simply a solid, swinging performance by a top piano trio. The music on Merry and Bright transcends the Christmas music genre.

The album has been twenty plus years in the making, as Jeff tired of hearing versions of holiday classics that he felt were not up to snuff. The tunes were selected from Hamilton’s memories growing up in a family where everyone gathered around the piano and sang Christmas tunes in four-part harmony. Two of the pieces, “Caroling Caroling” and “Bright, Bright the Holly Berries” he learned from The Singers Unlimited, whose textured vocal harmonies are still a staple of Christmas morning listening at Jeff’s home in California.

Whether the trio is tackling “Here Comes Santa Claus” with an up-tempo Brazilian beat, or allowing Hamilton’s trademark brush stylings to shine on “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” this album is likely to move into that pantheon of classic Christmas jazz, right next to another album Jeff helped create, Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs.

I first spoke with Jeff back in Podcast 755. His career has spanned almost every type of ensemble - the Big Bands of Woody Herman and Count Basie, the exotic quartet the L.A. 4 with Ray Brown, Bud Shank and Laurondo Almedida, and backing singers from Ella Fitzgerald to Diana Krall to Natalie Cole. Hamilton is both the leader of his this trio as well as one of the founders of the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and the Akiko-Hamilton-Dechter trio.

In addition to Merry and Bright, Jeff has collaborated on two other albums that have been released this fall. The first is an organ trio album with Matthew Kaminski (L.A. Connection), the Atlanta Braves stadium organist who has achieved cult status after playing jazz standards during the World Series, and guitarist Bruce Forman. The second, Major Influence, pairs Jeff and his long-time rhythm section buddies John Clayton (bass) and Tamir Hendelman (piano) with guitarist Graham Dechter. And just in case you felt he was not working hard enough, Jeff has put together a trio he calls the ”Poll Winners Revisited,” with Forman and Clayton, playing music inspired by, and using the actual instruments played by, the famed trio of Barney Kessell, Ray Brown and Shelly Manner.

Musical selections for Podcast 867 feature two tunes from Merry and Bright, “Bright, Bright the Holly Berries” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

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