Slide Hampton, a jazz trombonist, composer and arranger who appeared on the scene during the late bebop era and remained in demand for decades after, was found dead on Saturday at his home in Orange, New Jersey. He was 89 years old.
His grandson Richard Hampton confirmed death.
Mr. Hampton made a name for himself in the late 1950s with groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and others. He was considered a triple threat – not only a virtuoso trombonist, but also the creator of memorable compositions and arrangements.
He received a Grammy for his arrangements in 1998 and in 2005, the same year he was named Master of Jazz by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the 1980s, he led a group called The World of Trombones, which included up to nine trombones and a rhythm section. At the time, big, brass jazz was out of favor, but by then he had become an elderly statesman of jazz and was able to insist that his entire orchestra go to clubs more interested in smaller, close bands. Once in the door, it was almost always a hit.
He also worked full-time on college campuses, teaching composition and theory to the next generation of jazz musicians, and instilling in them a respect for jazz – and trombone – that went far beyond music.
“Playing the trombone makes you realize that you have to depend on other people,” Mr. Hampton told the New York Times in 1982. “If you need help, you cannot insult other people. This is why there is a real sense of camaraderie among trombonists. “
Locksley Wellington Hampton was born on April 21, 1932 in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. He was the youngest of 12 children and his parents, Clark and Laura (Buford) Hampton, recruited most of them into the family group they led – Locksley joined as a singer and dancer when he was just 6 years old.
In 1938, the family moved to Indianapolis in search of work. The city had a thriving jazz scene, and they soon embarked on a tour of the Midwest.
They never lacked gigs, but they lacked the trombonist – a flaw that the elder Mr. Hampton corrected by giving the instrument to his youngest son when he was 12 years old and teaching him to play it. He picked up the instrument – no easy task for a child – and it didn’t take him long to earn the nickname Slide.
He studied at the local conservatory, but received most of his musical education from his family and other musicians. He was especially fascinated by JJ Johnson, the leading trombonist of the sophisticated jazz school known as bebop, who lived in Indianapolis. Mr. Hampton later recalled that one evening he was standing outside the club with his instrument too young to enter when Mr. Johnson walked by. He was supposed to play that night, but he didn’t have a trombone. Mr Hampton gave him his.
Later, Mr. Hampton adapted several of Mr. Johnson’s works. One of them, “Cry”, he kept in his repertoire for decades.
After his father died in 1951, Locksley’s brother Duke took over the family group. In 1952, the band won a competition to perform at Carnegie Hall, which was supported by Lionel Hampton (not a relative).
While in New York, Mr. Hampton and one of his brothers went to the legendary Birdland Jazz Club, where they watched the bebop pianist Bud Powell play. He later said that the experience impressed him much more than the performance at Carnegie.
Mr. Hampton married Althea Gardner in 1948; they divorced in 1997. He has a brother Maceo; his children, Jacqueline, Lamont and Locksley Jr. five grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. His son Gregory died before him.
The Hampton family group later returned to New York to play at the Apollo Theater, and Slide convinced them to move to the city. When they objected, he made plans of his own.
A friend recommended performing once a week in Houston, and Mr. Hampton jumped at the opportunity. He paid well enough so that he could use the rest of the week to study and compose.
In 1955, R&B pianist Buddy Johnson invited him to his band and he moved to New York. A year later he moved to Lionel Hampton’s group, and a year later he joined Maynard Ferguson’s group. He wrote some of the more famous works of the Ferguson group, including Fugu and Three Little Foxes.
Mr. Hampton proved to be in great demand and in 1962 retired from the game as the leader of the Slide Hampton Octet. Although this group only lasted a year, and he later said that he did not handle his job well as its leader, this greatly increased his prominence.
As a leader, Mr. Hampton was humble. He often took a seat in the audience after playing a solo, so as not to overshadow the other band members when it was their turn. One day, when the TV group came to film the group, he interrupted his solo so that everyone could turn on their cameras.
In the early 1960s, he bought a brownstone home in the Fort Green area of Brooklyn, which quickly became a hotspot for jam sessions and a playground for some of the country’s finest musicians. Saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy and guitarist Wes Montgomery lived there for a while.
After his octet disbanded, Mr. Hampton served as Music Director for Motown Records, collaborating with Stevie Wonder, Four Tops and others. There he faced the growing popularity of pop and R&B with his own eyes and came to the conclusion that jazz was being ousted from the American music scene. After a European tour with Woody Hermann in 1968, he settled in Paris, where he found not only a thriving jazz audience, but also government subsidies that supported the music.
“The conditions and respect for the artist in Europe were so incredible that I was overwhelmed,” Mr. Hampton told The Times in 1982. “They viewed jazz as an art form in Europe long before they did it here.”
He returned to America in 1977, first to write arrangements for saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who had recently returned from Europe himself. By that time, the place of jazz had changed – major labels became interested, government grants became available, and colleges added jazz to the curriculum.
Mr. Hampton was once again in demand as a musician and now as an educator. For the next decades, he taught at Harvard, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, DePaul University in Chicago, and elsewhere. And he continued to play in New York City halls until the 2010s.
When asked what explains his success over such a long career, Mr. there was a time.
“Anything that is really high quality takes a lot of work,” he told the National Endowment for the Arts in a 2007 interview. “What comes easy is not associated with the highest level of quality.”