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Jazz Legend Chico Hamilton Going Strong At 85

There's no stopping legendary jazz drummer Chico Hamilton. For someone who's been playing jazz since the early-1940s, you might think he was ready to take a break. But, at 85, slowing down is the furthest thing from Hamilton's mind.

It didn't take long for Chico Hamilton to decide on playing jazz for a living. And once he made that decision he never looked back.

"Why look back, because you can't capture those moments again. They never come back," he says. "The time, the place, the people, no one is the same. So I just try to look forward to doing the best I can and produce and make good music."

Hamilton's success hinged on being in the right place at the right time: Los Angeles, California circa 1940.

"I came up in the era of this music and the people who created this type of music," he says. "And I had the respect of them, from Duke Ellington to (Count) Basie to Miles (Davis), "Trane" (John Coltrane), Max (Roach), Art Blakey, all of them. I was accepted. Here again, that's one of my rewards, one of my blessings."

Chico Hamilton was the drummer of choice for many jazz greats who came to California. He was Lena Horne's drummer for almost seven years, and he was the original drummer in Gerry Mulligan's famed piano-less quartet. Chico's been leading his own groups since 1955, adapting his style to the changing trends in jazz.

Hamilton's reputation for discovering new talent is well-deserved. He's responsible for helping to launch the careers of Jim Hall, Charles Lloyd, Ron Carter, Larry Coryell and others.

As a member of the faculty at the New School University's Jazz Program in New York, Hamilton says he has mixed feelings about today's aspiring musicians.

"They're very talented and they're able to play their instruments. On the other hand, they know very little about music," he notes. "They know very little about making music. And there's a difference between making music and playing music. So, what I try to do is help them cultivate themselves in regards to becoming very professional musicians and (teach them to) have respect of their craft, respect of themselves and respect for the music."

Four brand new CDs mark Chico Hamilton's 85th birthday on September 21, including an album of pop and jazz remakes titled "6th Avenue Romp."