Given that Chico Hamilton will celebrate his 80th birthday this September, one would almost forgive him if he wanted to rest on his laurels. A respected drummer/composer who has explored chamber jazz, hard bop, and big band, Hamilton's strength as a bandleader has been an ongoing desire to pepper his band with up-and-coming talent, making him instrumental in the careers of such esteemed artists as Jim Hall, Charles Lloyd, and Larry Coryell.
Of course, sitting back has never been part of Hamilton's game plan. His desire to have his music constantly evolve, along with his prowess as a talent scout, is clearly evident on Foreststorn (June 12), his first outing for Koch Jazz (Blue Notes, Billboard, April 7). The album's title is Hamilton's given name, as well as the name of his late son, who passed away last year after securing his father's deal with Koch and suggesting the project's direction.
Rather than reprising sounds he has traversed in the past, Foreststorn finds Hamilton exploring rhythmically charged compositions that are built upon what he refers to as ``dynamite grooves.'' The drummer composed 12 of Foreststorn's jaunty tracks and is joined by musicians who studied with him at one time or another, including longtime associates Cary DeNigris (guitar) and Paul Ramsey (bass), as well as alto and soprano saxophonist Erik Lawrence and tenor player Evan Schwam, who studied with him at the New School in New York.
``I wanted to groove, to have fun, and that's what these songs were specifically written for,'' Hamilton says. ``Everything was composed or picked specifically for the musicians who perform the music.'' John Popper, front man for the blues-rock band Blues Traveler, adds harmonica licks to ``I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,'' while Eric Schenkman, former guitarist/founding member of the Spin Doctors, swings through the bluesy ``Guitar Willie.'' Both also studied with Hamilton at the New School.
Also appearing on Foreststorn are former Hamilton band members Steve Turre (trombone) and Arthur Blythe (saxophone), as well as cellist Akua Dixon. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts pays tribute to his friend Hamilton with a short but sweet solo on ``Here Comes Charlie Now.''
``I've just been blessed throughout my career to associate myself with players like this and to introduce many of them to the public,'' Hamilton says, noting that both Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors originated when the primary band members were students in his jazz ensemble class. ``I encouraged them to get a group going, as I do with my best students every semester.''
``Chico hipped me to the fact that we don't create music _ we create moods. The music is always out there, and it flows through our moods,'' Schenkman says. ``The Spin Doctors were successful as a working band in New York City due to two basic tenets of Chico's philosophy _ simplicity and swinging your ass off.''
Hamilton enjoys exploring as many genres of music as possible, with musicians versed in different playing styles. ``It's all just good music, regardless of what you want to call it,'' he says. ``It takes all kinds of music to make good music and all kinds of grooves to groove.''
The drummer chalks up his band's loose but unified sound to ``musicians respecting each other and listening to what is going on around them,'' he says. ``These days, you hear trios and quartets where each guy takes his turn blowing, but there is not much for the audience to hold on to. When my band plays, a handful of guys suddenly sound like an orchestra.''
IN brief: The Jazz Journalists Assn. will hold its fifth annual awards ceremony June 14 at New York's Birdland as a benefit for the Emergency Care Fund of the Jazz Foundation of America. The proceedings, which include live performances and a keynote speech from Dr. Billy Taylor, are open to the public. Contact 212-533-9495 or hman(AT)jazzhouse.org for more information . . . San Francisco-based Denine Monet mixes standards, including Dizzy Gillespie's ``Night in Tunisia'' and Abbey Lincoln's ``Bird Alone,'' with material from her own pen on Lady Bird (Shotzi, June 6). An emotive singer with a unique ear for arrangements, Monet is a fine songwriter, as evidenced by her original composition ``Firefly.'' Her band includes Yellowjackets pianist Russell Ferrante . . . Painter David X. Young, host of innumerable jam sessions in his downtown New York loft during the '50s, passed away May 22. Young's contributions to jazz history are documented in the combination art book/CD Jazz Loft, released last year on the Jazz Magnet label.