“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Slide Hampton
Smitty: With a collection of music that tops most bestsellers, my next guest has established himself as a true living legend. He has released a wonderful new project and I call it a “hold onto your hat” project. He does a great tribute to a fantastic artist, Mr. Antonio Carlos Jobim. The record is called Slide Plays Jobim. He’s one of my favorite musicians. Please welcome the incredible Mr. Slide Hampton. Slide, it is an honor, my friend. How are you?
Slide Hampton (SH): Doing really well and very happy to have this opportunity to spend this time with you.
Smitty: Thank you! The pleasure is mine as well. I’m just so excited about this new record and when I listen to this record and your many other recordings as well, I say to myself, you were just made for Bossa Nova.
SH: I love the Bossa Nova.
Smitty: What a great project.
SH: Oh, thank you. I’ve always loved the music of Jobim.
Smitty: Yes, now, you first heard Jobim at a very early age, right?
SH: Yes I did. I enjoyed it so much, I never tried doing it, never ever tried to play it or write it, I just listened to it and really loved it, and then I finally decided to do this CD Slide Plays Jobim.
Smitty: Now, when you decided to do this project, it must have been a treat to work with John Lee on this project.
SH: Yes. John is always listening to his music a lot too and I’ve listened to it for many, many years, and John had some friends that are Brazilian musicians, so he came up with the idea to do the CD and I did all of the arrangements and played on it, and we really did have a great time with it.
Smitty: Yes, you did, and you could tell that everyone really had a great time playing this great music, and the arrangements are impeccable, talk about how you came up with these arrangements because we still hear Jobim, but you were so fluid on the trombone and all these great musicians supporting you, they were just such a perfect fit for this project.
SH: Well, they were enjoying it so much and there was a big inspiration with what the whole thing was based on, the arrangements came so easily because of the beautiful compositions that Jobim had composed.
SH: When I started writing, everything just came naturally and it flowed, it came out very quickly.
Smitty: Yes, and when you think about this whole project and just the whole idea of when a musician has such an admiration for another musician, it really has to be some serious inspiration and a serious admiration to do a whole project with someone’s music to that degree, you know what I mean?
SH: Well, see, the thing that really always is just inspiring to us is someone that has a great natural sense of harmony like the Brazilians do and has written these very beautiful compositions just one after the other, and you listen to this music and it’s just so wonderful to listen to and it’s so inspiring to actually play it or write any arrangements on, so it’s just really a great opportunity to have had the chance to do this kind of arrangement on a recording.
Smitty: Beautiful, and your trombone fits so well with this music. It’s such a no-brainer. I just love the arrangements and how you blend the trombone so well.
SH: Well, the whole thing about the trombone is—the tradition of the trombone is to develop the most beautiful sound that you can, starting all the way back with Tommy Dorsey and Johnny Young, all the great trombone players, and even before that, the classical trombone players. And so this is the thing that—in fact, it seems like the Brazilians, they’ve always been kind of partial to trombones also. They did use a lot of trombones in their recordings.
Smitty: Absolutely. Talk about what it meant to have the vocalist, Maucha Adnet, there.
SH: Oh yeah, Maucha, she worked with Jobim.
SH: And she knew all of this music, man, and she taught us the thing that we didn’t know. She taught us the melodies and the freedom of the way that she actually expresses herself when she’s interpreting the music and it was just really a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with her and hear her sing. She’s really something special.
Smitty: Yes she is and I just love her voice and the way she weaves so effortlessly through the tracks. Track 4, “Voce Vai Ver [You Will See],” you just get so captivated and caught up in such tunes like that.
SH: Well, she’s so free when she sings but, you know, the thing is that she might be playing a percussion instrument at the same time and playing some exact rhythm patterns and singing completely free of it. It’s amazing.
Smitty: That is amazing. You mentioned at one point that in doing these arrangements and writing that there was such a learning curve there. Talk about what that learning process was as you continued to write.
SH: Well, the whole thing with arranging or composing is of course, developing a sense for resolution and harmony, for color and beauty, and all the Brazilian music is based on these things. This is the foundation of that music. They can harmonize the same composition a million different ways and each way sounds like it must have been the original harmony.
Smitty: Oh, man. It doesn’t get any sweeter that.
SH: So I learned so much about harmony just working with these compositions.
Smitty: Absolutely, and you did a very nice tribute, a live tribute, what, about a year ago?
SH: Yes, yes.
Smitty: Talk about that.
SH: This concert at the Tribeca Performing Center of the Arts and we had this group that’s on the CD here, Slide Plays Jobim, and we also had a Big Band playing Jobim compositions and a couple of other Brazilian composers too, and it was just really a great pleasure.
Smitty: Talk about what that night meant to you because, now, think about it: at a young age you heard this music and you wanted to play it at some point and blend your trombone into Jobim’s music, and to do that on a record is fantastic and amazing in itself, but to have such a wonderful night of live music and to play this music as a tribute to him, talk about what that night meant to you.
SH: Well, we had the opportunity to get all of these great musicians together and really pay our respect to this music and also show our respect for the musicians by giving them the best conditions to work under as possible playing this beautiful music. We had about five rehearsals and we paid for all of the rehearsals, we paid the guys money that they usually don’t get in a large ensemble situation playing in New York or anywhere else, and it was just wonderful to have the ability to be a part of organizing that event with my friend Tony Charles.
SH: The two of us actually organized this whole project and it was just a real pleasure.
Smitty: Yes, we must give it up for Tony Charles. He’s a great inspiration and he’s one of those guys that does so much behind the scenes and makes so many wonderful things happen.
SH: That’s true, very true. He’s been a big help to me. I’ve never met anyone else like him that has the love for music and for trying to make music happen in a way that really shows the musicians the respect that they deserve and show them the great tribute to the music itself.
Smitty: Absolutely, my friend, and you had a number of special guests that night with Slide Plays Jobim, right?
SH: Yes, yes, well, we had so many people that night, so many special guests.
Smitty: Yes, and I can think of Roy Hargrove.
SH: Yes, Roy was there. Roy was there and we had a trumpet ensemble for that night that was just fantastic and also the whole brass section and the whole Big Band. Everything was just really the kind of thing that you hope that you get to have happen in your life and we finally had the chance to realize it.
Smitty: Very cool. What a great night that must have been, you know? And no doubt Jobim would have been so proud of what you accomplished with this great music and putting it together the way you did, it was without a doubt an elegant night of great music.
SH: Well, we really tried to bring his spirit to the people and I’m sure that they really felt that way about it too, and we still have an opportunity to present Jobim and it’s always a wonderful experience whenever we do.
Smitty: Yes indeed. So, now, when you think about all that you’ve accomplished with your music and this great project as well, how does it feel to be a living legend? (Both laugh.)
SH: It feels like we’re just finally starting to learn to make some music at 75 years old, just starting to learn.
Smitty: What a great answer, your humility bespeaks the great person and incredible musician that you are. Well, I was thinking about this, I said, you know, I’ve gotta throw him one little curve, because you really are, seriously speaking. None of us ever admit accomplishments to the degree that they are because sometimes we don’t even see them, but you truly are a living legend, and I’m speaking as a fan and as an individual who knows and understands your music. You truly are a living legend.
SH: Well, I appreciate, you know, your respect for myself and the music and all of that. Of course, see, the good thing about music is it makes you realize that you’re always a lot smaller than the music is.
Smitty: I understand, yes.
SH: A lot less important than the music is.
Smitty: But, you know, Slide, and I said what I just said earlier to let you know how much you are appreciated by fans around the world for what you’ve done with the music. It can’t be overstated that you have accomplished a great deal, you’ve reached a lot of people, and you’ve reached the hearts of a lot of people with your music and we truly appreciate you for what you’ve done with such great arrangements.
SH: It’s me to thank you and all the people that listen to our music.
Smitty: Absolutely, my friend, and isn’t it great to have that mutual admiration and appreciation? And that’s part of what music’s all about, really.
SH: Truth is, it really teaches you to appreciate all the different things that go into making music and a musical event, which is the composers, the arrangers, the musicians, the audience. It takes all of that to make a real successful musical event and without one part of it, we couldn’t really have the music we have.
Smitty: You’re so right. And your music, the awards you’ve received and the admiration that you’ve received over the years, all of that speaks for itself in saying that you truly are a great musician who is much appreciated as a person and as a musician, around the world.
SH: If we didn’t have guys like you advocating our music, a lotta people would never hear it, so I really wanna thank you for what you’ve done to help keep the music going and keep it alive.
Smitty: Well, thank you so much. It is my pleasure and it means a lot to hear you say that. Now, let’s talk about the big band, man. I know you’ve gotta love that whole scene and the whole vibe of the big band. Talk about what that’s like when you’re in the groove with the big band.
SH: Well, when I first started the big bands were the thing. There weren’t any small groups. They were all big bands. There was Count Basie, there was Dizzy Gillespie, there was Billy Eckstine, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton. Big bands have always been a very important part of the development of the whole musical scene because it’s like a school. Every band is like a school. You learn in a big band. You’re playing with other guys that are as good as you or maybe even better than you, so it’s an environment of learning. All the great musicians that we hear recording with small groups, they have all spent a lot of their training period in the big bands, so the big bands are very important.
Smitty: Very interesting. Now, how do you go from a smaller band to the big band? I mean, is there that much of a different personality? Is it a different feel for you? Or is it just hey, this is Slide Hampton?
SH: Well, you’re taking the experience from one end to the other and each one has things about it that are more important, and you take those things that are more important right from the small band to the big band and vice versa.
SH: Because each experience that you have can also bring something to whatever kind of ensemble you’re playing with. If you’ve been playing a lot with small bands, you learn certain things there that will make you better in a big band, and there are things that you learn in a big band that will make you better in a small group.
Smitty: Absolutely. That’s very cool. Now, talk to me about the record. How can people get this record?
SH: The record is available on my Web site www.slidehampton.com.
Smitty: Yes. I love your web site; a fantastic design and very informative.
SH: Thank you. If you logon to my web site, you’ll have all the information, because Tony’s the one that handles all that stuff. Tony Charles handles all of that. So you can get it through us.
Smitty: Absolutely, my friend. How about the tour, how’s that going?
SH: We’ve got some great projects coming up, so many, and you know, in April it’s gonna be my 75th birthday.
Smitty: Well, congratulations, my friend. That’s quite an accomplishment in this fragile world.
SH: And we’re having a lot of celebrations. I’m playing four universities starting in the beginning of the month, which are things that have been handled by Tony Charles, and they’re gonna be celebrating my 75th birthday at each one of these universities, and then in the middle of the month I’ll be celebrating back in Indianapolis for three days. We’re gonna be celebrating that for the next year. I’ll probably be more than 75 years old by the time it’s over.
Smitty: (Laughs.) And we’re happy to hear that you’ll still be around, my friend. Yes, and this information they can get from your Web site as well.
Smitty: Oh, great. Well, I certainly hope to get out and catch one of your live events, my friend, I’m looking forward to that.
SH: I’d love to see you anywhere.
Smitty: Thank you.
SH: You’re my guest whenever you’re anywhere that we’re near each other.
Smitty: Well, thank you very much. I would be honored. We’ve been talking with the Grammy Award winning Mr. Slide Hampton. Once again, the record is Slide Plays Jobim. Please go to his Web site to get this great record. This is one that will certainly have you holding onto your hat because this is some wonderful music. Slide, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to speak with you and to know that you’re still out there doing your thing. Best of everything in 2007 and beyond, my friend.
SH: Thank you so much. It’s a real honor talking to you and thanks so much for helping keep music alive.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.slidehampton.com
© May 2007 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED