Legendary Indy jazz trombonist Slide Hampton turns 75


Celebrate with local musicians all weekend at the Jazz Kitchen

Slide Hampton may have been the baby brother of the renowned Hampton Sisters, but to the jazz world, he is a tireless international ambassador playing his trombone and teaching America’s jazz tradition.

Slide will celebrate his 75th birthday in his hometown of Indianapolis this weekend (Friday, April 20-Sunday, April 22), performing with various other musicians at the Jazz Kitchen.

Maintaining the tenacious commitment to the Hampton family values of jazz, Slide began playing at age 12 in the Hampton family band, in a span that included gigs at Carnegie Hall. After that, he started working in different groups in New York and arranged music for big bands. His distinctive playing, arranging and composing skills for the Maynard Ferguson Band, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey earned him accolades among his peers. Slide formed his first group, Octet, in 1962, featuring Indy native trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

“I had written for some big bands; then I started to listen to the Art Blakey Sextet, which sounded like a big band,” Slide says. “I learned from them. I thought, ‘Well if they had three horns and sounded like that, what would we sound like with six horns?’”

Octet disbanded after two years, and Slide became disenchanted with the jazz scene in 1968 and left the U.S.

“At that time, jazz wasn’t really played over the media very much here,” Slide says. “You didn’t hear much about jazz. I went to England with Woody Herman’s band for two weeks when some people asked me to come play some concerts in Europe. The conditions they gave us, and the way they treated musicians with such respect, [encouraged me to] stay there for seven years.”

Then the Austrian government gave Slide a blank check to teach and write for their national radio orchestra. “I did a lot for the radio there in Austria,” Slide says. “I worked all over Europe, and they were very supportive of jazz.”

When Slide returned back to the States in 1977, jazz support here was more favorable. “What started happening when I came back [was] more subsidies from the government. The programs in the schools started to implement jazz as a part of their education system,” he says. “They needed teachers, so they chose musicians who had been playing for a long time and had us come and do master classes and clinics.”

Today, Slide is a tireless proponent of master classes at universities all over the nation, including Indiana University and Harvard, in order to maintain the jazz tradition for future audiences. He admits that in spite of his commitment to music education, performing jazz means more to him.

“I just enjoy playing now more than I ever did and also composing and arranging,” he says. “But the educational thing is very important, because it sort of takes the place of the big band period that used to exist. There are big bands at most universities where you do a master class, rehearse and do a concert.”

Slide’s pen is as potent as his trombone; it has earned him three Grammy Awards for his musical arrangements. In 2005, he received a Presidential National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award to go along with numerous other career honors.

Today, Slide is a health food lover whose relaxation hobby is trombone practice. If he had a second choice of instrument to play, he says he would choose the piano. “All of the music that has been written over the years was by keyboard players,” he says. As a master trombonist, composer, arranger and teacher, Slide is a passionately driven keeper of the jazz tradition flame.

What: Slide Hampton’s 75th birthday celebration weekend

Where: Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave., www.thejazzkitchen.com

When: “A Tribute to J.J. Johnson” with Slide Hampton, Steve Davis and former Indy resident Phil Ranelin, Friday, April 20, 8 and 10:30 p.m., $30; “A Tribute to Jobim” with Slide Hampton and Jambacule, Saturday, April 21, 8 and 10:30 p.m., $30; “A Tribute to Virtue Hampton” with Slide Hampton and the Steve Allee Big Band, 6:30 p.m., $35. Limited three-night packages of $80 are available. For reservations, call 317-253-4900.

Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Saturday Evening Jazz Show, 6-8 p.m. on 88.7 WICR-FM.