Jeff Hamilton in his seat. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton is famous for his hands, his power drumming, and how he deftly drives any ensemble fortunate enough to have him at the seat. He has been a prime mover with jazz greats Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman and the L.A. Four. For 26 years, his partnership with John and Jeff Clayton in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO) has dominated the big band jazz scene.

Hamilton brings his trio, with Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass, to Jazz in the Pines on Saturday, Aug. 27, in Stephens Recital Hall, the festival’s jazz temple. Hendelman is also the pianist with CHJO and a distinguished arranger and player in his own right. Luty’s rich bass lower register sound has been favorably compared with Ray Brown.

But it is Hamilton’s hand-drumming that regularly blows audiences away. In a review of the Ray Brown trio, Denver Post critic Jeff Bradley observed, “Hamilton brought the crowd to its feet with his amazing hand-drumming, soft and understated yet as riveting and rewarding as any drum solo you’ve heard.”

Hamilton recalled his time at Indiana University (Hamilton is a native Hoosier). “We were pushed to create our own instruments,” he remembered. “For me it became the snap of the fingers on the cymbals, the search for different sounds, always in the service of the music.” But it was when he took over from Shelly Mann in the L.A. Four, an ensemble in which Mann’s signature playing in Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” had become iconic, that an accident evolved into a Hamilton signature.

“I dropped a stick by accident,” recalled Hamilton. “It was the element of surprise.” Hamilton continued on with one stick and one hand. Later, Ray Brown said, “I think you should keep that in.”

There is almost no one of consequence or note that Hamilton has not performed or recorded with including Ella Fitzgerald, the Count Basie Orchestra, Rosemary Clooney, George Shearing, Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Mel Torme, Benny Carter and many more.

Called by Edward Blanco in eJazzNews “One of the most celebrated drummers of our time,” Hamilton is easy to talk with and clearly loves the jazz family of which he is a renowned part. A great friend and mentor and CHJO co-leader, John Clayton, whom he met at Indiana University, gave Hamilton some early advice that helped him forge his career. “Decide who you want to play with,” said Clayton. “Do your research and homework and that will be your seat when the opportunity opens up. Talk to the people that play with them. And then sit down in the band that calls you.”

Hamilton remembers Clayton talking about how jazz is different from other forms and how it builds family-like bonds. “He [Clayton] was talking about being at Shelly’s Manhole (iconic 1960s L.A. jazz club). Everybody walks on the bandstand and hugs each other. “I want to be in a group that can do that,’ Hamilton remembers Clayton saying.”

This will be Hamilton’s first time at Jazz in the Pines. It is an event not to be missed. He is also playing Saturday evening at the Patron's dinner.