An adaptable and swinging jazz drummer, Jeff Hamilton has distinguished himself as an in-demand sideman and bandleader, working with both his own trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
Initially emerging in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Hamilton built his reputation playing with big bands before coming to wider recognition as a member of the illustrious Ray Brown Trio in the '80s and '90s. Building upon Brown's trio format, Hamilton launched his own group, issuing a steady flow of highly regarded acoustic jazz dates like 1994's It's Hamilton Time, 2009's Symbiosis, and 2017's Dreamsville. At the same time, he co-leads his big band with bassist John Clayton and saxophonist Jeff Clayton, issuing sophisticated large group dates like 1999's Explosive! with Milt Jackson and 2014's Grammy-nominated The L.A. Treasure's Project.
Born in 1953, Hamilton grew up in Richmond, Indiana, where he started playing drums at age eight. Initially influenced by his parent's big band and Oscar Peterson records, by his teens he was drawing inspiration from albums by percussion idols like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, Philly Joe Jones, and Shelly Manne. After high school, he earned his music degree from Indiana University and studied privately with noted drummer John Von Ohlen. His first big job came in 1974 with the New Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, followed a year later with a stint in Lionel Hampton's band. He then joined bassist John Clayton in pianist Monty Alexander's trio, recording 1979's Facets and Live! Montreux Alexander. From there, he spent several years touring and recording as a member of Woody Herman's Thundering Herd, before taking over the drum chair from Shelly Manne in the L.A. Four with Ray Brown, Bud Shank, and Laurindo Almeida. It was while with the L.A. Four that Hamilton began composing and arranging, ultimately recording six albums, including 1978's Just Friends and 1980's Zaca.
Also during this period, he formed the all-star Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, pairing as co-leader with longtime associates bassist John Clayton and altoist Jeff Clayton. The group debuted in 1990 with Groove Shop, which featured a bevy of top soloists including tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard; trumpeters Snooky Young, Clay Jenkins, and Oscar Brashear; and trombonist George Bohanon. The group, which was the in-residence ensemble for the Hollywood Bowl Jazz series from 1999 to 2001, has issued a number of highly regarded straight-ahead big-band dates like 1995's Absolutely!, 2000's Shout Me Out!, and 2009's Charles Aznavour & the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
On his own, Hamilton has steadily continued to lead trio sessions. After initially returning to his solo work with 1994's It's Hamilton Time, he also paired with vibraphonist Frits Landesbergen for 1997's Dynavibes and offered the 2002 trio date Hands On with bassist Lynne Seaton and pianist Larry Fuller. He then introduced a new trio featuring pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty, issuing albums like 2004's The Best Things Happen, 2009's Symbiosis, and 2012's Red Sparkle. The following year, he and bassist Clayton backed pianist/singer Paul Kuhn on The L.A. Session. In 2014, the drummer earned a Grammy nomination for his work on the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra's album The L.A. Treasure's Project.
Away from his own groups, Hamilton further distinguished himself working on projects with singers like Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, and Michael Buble. In 2017, he was back with his trio for Dreamsville, a collaboration with saxophonist Cory Weeds. Two years later, the drummer joined pianist Akiko Tsuruga and guitarist Graham Dechter for Equal Time. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi