Chico Hamilton

Anyone familiar with the sound of West Coast jazz from the 1950s knows the sound of Los Angeles-born drummer Chico Hamilton. A musician who often emphasized a subtle musical grace in his playing over snare-rattling runs, Hamilton helped forge the California sound dubbed “cool jazz” in the 1950s and launched the careers of a wealth of jazz artists both as a bandleader and an educator.

Hamilton, 92, died at his New York City home Tuesday morning. The cause has not been determined, but Hamilton was diagnosed with emphysema late in life, according to his nephew Raoul Hamilton, who confirmed his death.

Born Foreststorn Hamilton in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1921, he started his music career quickly while attending Jefferson High School, where he first met classmates (and eventual jazz greats) Buddy Collette, Dexter Gordon and Charles Mingus. After high school, Hamilton performed with a variety of artists, including Lionel Hampton and Lester Young before joining the Army in 1942. After his discharge in 1946, Hamilton returned to L.A. and briefly played drums with the Count Basie Orchestra before landing a gig backing vocalist Lena Horne from 1948 to 1955.

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