A Pianist Doesn’t Sing

Hampton Hawes, the bebop pianist from L.A., was a heroin addict. The cops figured that if they could entrap him, since he was at the beginning of what looked like a successful career, they’d be able to get him to spill the beans about dealers and the like. They did bust him for saying he’d sell an undercover cop a little heroin. But even with a ten-year sentence hanging over his head, the pianist refused to sing. After a few years in the clink, Hawes saw JFK’s inauguration and had a mystical moment where he knew that this man would be his salvation. Sure enough, the 43rd of the 44 pardons JFK signed before his death included that of HH, who went on to record some nice albums. In what I believe was the penultimate record he made before serving his time, For Real, he plays with the fine sax player Harold Land. One decent way of judging a pianist is to hear how he accompanies a good soloist. Thelonious, for instance, is a superb accompanist, knowing when to hold back, when to accentuate, how to make things interesting. I think Hawes stands up pretty well here with Land.

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