Published: May 19, 2014
“ Jazz is a social language, a social construct. It’s like religion in many ways; it’s how people choose to live their lives. —Linley Hamilton ”
Trumpeter Linley Hamilton has been a mainstay of the Northern Irish jazz scene for well over two decades. An in-demand session musician, Hamilton has played on over a hundred recordings of various stripes, lending his burnished tone to rock and pop artists and singer-songwriters alike. But it's as a jazz musician, jazz educator, jazz radio broadcaster, and not least, as an utterly tireless advocate of the music that he's best known.
With a quintet comprised of some of the very best jazz musicians North and South of the border, Hamilton has done as much as anybody to promote jazz throughout Ireland and his BBC radio show never fails to promote nationwide talent wherever possible. His tutorial residencies at the Sligo Jazz Project reveal a musician with a deep understanding of the mechanics of the music and one who recognizes the importance of mentorship to bring the next generation of jazz musicians through. With Hamilton it's all about giving back.
Hamilton's drive to delve deeper into the music has seen him undertake a PHD in performance and the good Dr. Hamilton—as he'll soon be known—is just as much at home talking passionately about the nuts and bolts of music as he is performing on stage. The stage, however, is Hamilton's natural habitat, and there he can cut it with the best. Over the years he's played with singer-songwriter Van Morrison, saxophonists Jean Toussaint and Alan Barnes, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, pianist Kenny Werner and drummer John Riley amongst many others.
As a leader, Hamilton has produced 4 albums, the latest of which, In Transition (Lyte Records, 2014) is his strongest personal statement yet. Highly melodic and grooving, In Transition's blues and swing is rooted in the tradition, but unlike previous recordings this one marks a step towards crafting a greater proportion of original compositions. In Transition also embraces more contemporary repertoire not usually associated with jazz.
The official launch of In Transition came at Belfast's very own jazz festival, Brilliant Corners, an occasion which Hamilton clearly relished: "It was very special," admits Hamilton. "We took two or three days to rehearse in Dublin and did a couple of gigs before just to make sure that the set worked."
The Belfast crowd's reaction to Hamilton's quintet—bassist Damien Evans, drummer Dominic Mullan, pianist Johnny Taylor and guitarist Julien Colarossi—and the new music it presented was hugely positive: "There was a lot of love in the air," admits Hamilton. "The festival had a very positive vibe. It was a full house, we were hot off two gigs and we saved our best for last. It was a great gig. The whole gig for me was about the band and the punters, and me explaining the processes that were involved in the making of the album and the choosing of the music and hopefully shining some light on the songs so that their experience was more enjoyable."
Everybody at the packed Crescent Arts Centre for Hamilton's quartet gig at Brilliant Corners went home with a free copy of In Transition. It was a nice gesture on Hamilton's part but one that suggests the worth of CDs these days is less as a money spinner and more as a savvy promotional tool: "In a small local scene like Northern Ireland it's my reward to the punters who follow me," Hamilton explains. "I run a jazz gig in McHughes every Saturday afternoon and it's a pin-drop audience of between sixty and ninety people. This is my reward for them, to bring my band up from Dublin and let them see me working in a slightly different arena."
Hamilton is acutely aware of the importance of his audience and the value it brings to the gig: "I always think of the punters who attend the gigs as equal to the musicians," says Hamilton. "It's a sort of a partnership. You need the audience to bring the best out of the musicians."
The trumpeter is also sensitive to an audience's expectations: "I think you need to bring the audience along with you," he says. "You maybe need to be playing stuff that they're going to be familiar with before you play something new. I know that I'm going to see a lot of the people in my audiences at least ten times a year so I carefully sculpt the sets with that information in mind. I make sure there's something new and something fresh."
Hamilton understands that the social environment where the music is made, where it's performed and where it's heard are all closely related and he talks with enthusiasm about the writings of ethnomusicologists Paul Berliner and Ingrid Monson on music and place, which have influenced his thinking.
Hamilton's own environment these past few years studying for a PHD in performance has had, by his own admission, a fairly profound effect on his approach to making music and consequently the sound he produces on his trumpet. The processes are ongoing, as suggested by the title of the new CD.
"In the last three or four years I've had a chance to expose myself to new music, to think about the processes involved when I play," explains Hamilton. "If you'd asked me three years ago how I improvise I would have told you that I improvised horizontally, which means I wove linear, melodic lines through chordal key centers, and how I played paragraphs, sentences with commas, which are semi-quaver/quaver rests, full stops, which maybe have a longer rest and how those musical sentences are connected to each other. That's kind of changed," Hamilton says.
"I've approached a more vertical way of improvising where rather than thinking about aural tonal centers I'm looking at the vocabulary that comes one chord at a time. I'm thinking not just in terms of melodic referencing of the melody but melodically referencing the last bit of information that either I have played or somebody else has played, so I'm motivically developing my improvisations. I'm going through blocks of that.
"I'm still horizontally improvising harmonically but I'm vertically improvising rhythmically. So, the processes that I'm experiencing improvising are different than they were three years ago."
The transition in Hamilton's playing in recent years has also been influenced by some of Europe's most notable exponents of the trumpet: "I've been listening to people like Till Bronner and Mathias Eick and similar European players and the different ways that they approach music," explains Hamilton, "where maybe tonality and sound would be dominant for one, where maybe rhythmic ideas would be dominant for another and where maybe harmonic ideas would be the dominant force in someone else's playing. It made me think about what was the dominant force for me.
"The transition," Hamilton expands, "is that I've basically come full circle now and I've realized that the most important thing to me is melody and sound; they are governing what I do. I still use a lot of advanced technique whenever I'm improvising in live performance and I still bring the same energy to the performance that people associate with me, but on In Transition I was doing my best to bring the melody and the sound to the fore, to lay back on some of the technical stuff and to try and bring an intensity to the music which didn't involve a lot of showboating, for want of another word. It changes the way I approach the songs, the construction of the arrangements and I guess it has governed the whole sound of the album."
Hamilton's methodology in the past will no doubt sound familiar to many musicians: "The way I have always improved as a trumpet player and jazz musician is by knocking my head against a brick wall trying to do something for six months and then all of a sudden bang, you wake up and you've made the progression you were looking for in that particular element."
The PHD course, however, has refined the process: "A switch has come on," acknowledges Hamilton, "but it's about research. "I've been able to analyze what other players do and I've transcribed their solos, seen the harmony they've used, the rhythmic pattern they've used and things that I would never have thought of, like resolution to the downbeat where they're hiding the strong downbeat and playing quavers through them and eventually they maybe resolve onto beat one or beat three at the end of a phrase."
Hamilton has turned the process inwards on himself with some revealing insights: "I've analyzed stuff in transcriptions of my own playing which I think are unique to me, but I'm sure they're not. Whenever I hear them they feel like traits, rather than ideas, that appear in my playing time and time again. Rather than seeing them as weaknesses I see them as strengths—as my identity." For Hamilton, it's all an on-going process: "I'm exploring that and trying to take it on to the next level."
Jazz education is a thriving business and has been for several decades but Northern Ireland has been slow to initiate jazz programs at advanced level: "They're common everywhere except here," says Hamilton. "We have a PHD course at the University of Ulster Magee in Derry, which is headed by Professor Frank Lyons, who's a music fan as well as a musicologist. It's attracting students from the North and South of Ireland and further afield.
"But in schools, the jazz curriculum in Northern Ireland is relatively basic," continues Hamilton, "and doesn't really touch anything significant in terms of what live music performance would be. There aren't any ambassadors of the jazz fraternity here brought into schools so there are still big gaps in the market and Northern Ireland in particular needs its leaders to be, not only evangelists but mentors to the younger ones coming through. There's a will but at the moment there isn't a way."
Just one hundred miles down the road in Dublin, the successful Newpark Music Center is leading the way in providing high-quality jazz education in Ireland: "Newpark has been remarkable," enthuses Hamilton. "It's developed to the point where it's a feeder college for Berklee College of Music in Boston. People are coming from all over the world to Newpark, from South America and all over Europe as the first step on their way to Berklee."
Newpark is a model that Hamilton clearly admires: "If we had the equivalent in Belfast you'd have PHD tutors from Dublin, from Belfast and further afield. You'd be sending these young musicians to play clubs, hotels and other venues and to set up their own performance arenas. You'd have audiences that they'd bring—student audiences—becoming part of the bigger audience sector that already exists and habitually goes to McHughes and the Brilliant Corners festival, going to support these younger players. You'd have collaboration between the established players and the younger players. You'd have my radio show promoting them, you have Stephen Graham's Marlbank.net and All About Jazz writing about them and the Jazz NI Facebook page and together you'd be creating a jazz dynasty as has happened in Dublin. It's something that we all just pray about here," Hamilton admits.
Turning once again to In Transition, Hamilton shares his thoughts on the songs and the musicians in his quintet. One of the most striking interpretations on the CD is singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright's "Dinner at 8." It may seem like an unusual choice for a jazz cover but Hamilton doesn't see it like that: "I'm a jazz trumpeter but I'm a musician first and foremost and I like all kinds of music," he affirms.
"Singer-songwriters appeal to me. They are the next generation of Great American Songbook writers, whoever coined that phrase. The truth is there are loads of great writers, American and British—Elton John, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave— great songs with great lyrics, great melodies over great chords, so it's nice to welcome them in. "Dinner at 8"? The sentiment, the melody and the chords are all gorgeous. It lends itself to people like us taking our own approach to that music. Rufus Wainright is a great songwriter, so why not have that on my album?"
Hamilton's previous CD, Taylor Made (Lyte Records, 2011) consisted mostly of jazz standards but on In Transition Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" is the only jazz standard. For Hamilton, it wasn't a conscious decision to move away from the Great American Songbook: "We didn't have any original numbers on the last album and we're now in the transition of writing quite a lot of material and we wanted to put three originals on. We thought it was probably going to be a seven-track album and it limited the number of standards we could use."
As with all the other tracks, with "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" Hamilton was drawn by the song's melody: "It's got a lovely sentiment and the melody flows very well. It gives me a chance to play horizontally, which is what I was brought up on. People will listen to that and think, oh yeah, that's the Linley we know. They'll hear me playing the standard way that I would, anticipating the harmony, which is something that I've always done. I'll be aware that there's a harmonic change coming seven or eight bars down the line and I'll stop my line and start the harmony of the next phrase early."
It's probably no coincidence that Hamilton's playing on the old jazz standard differs to his approach on the more contemporary and self-penned material: "When I look at the transcription of my solo on that track ["I Didn't Know What Time it Was"] I think, yeah, that's me, and when I look at the transcriptions of the other solos on the rest of the album I think, ah, that's the new me."
Just as Hamilton is keen to mentor the up-and-coming generation of jazz musicians he is quick to acknowledge the role that others have played in his own development. Another song from In Transition, the appropriately titled "Anthem" was composed by Australian trumpeter Paul Williamson, who left an indelible impression on the jazz scene during his stay in Ireland.
"Paul's an educator," says Hamilton. "He had a really great work ethic with a great technique. He was very passionate about the music other people made and he had a big knock-on effect on a lot of the guys like the young [guitarist] Michael Buckley coming through and other young guys who got a chance to work with him. It's had a knock-on effect in the way they in turn have impacted on musicians coming after them as well."
Williamson wasn't alone in inspiring local jazz musicians: "It wasn't just Paul," says Hamilton. It was seven or eight guys like him over the last twenty years. I wanted to make some kind of nod to those musicians who come to Ireland to play and stay."
Though jazz in Northern Ireland is not as developed as in the Republic of Ireland in simple terms of numbers, nevertheless, the jazz scene is arguably healthier than it's ever been. In no small part, that's thanks to a number of foreign jazz musicans who have dropped anchor and made Northern Ireland their home, which clearly excites Hamilton: "Right now we've got [saxophonist] Meilana Gillard from New York; we've got David Fasulo, a great Italian pianist; we've got Dana Masters, an incredible vocalist from South Carolina and pianist Kaidi Tatham. These guys coming here are spreading their tentacles and making an impact that the rest of us can only benefit from."
Hamilton's In Transition quintet boasts two adopted foreigners in Italian guitarist Julien Colarossi and Australian bassist Damien Evans: "I think it's very important that we broaden the scene because these people are bringing something very special with them," stresses Hamilton. "They bring energy and they pass it on to the next person. They're a catalyst for change and some of that change can just be the influence of their professional ethic and it can be the influence of what they listen to or how they respond in a rehearsal situation. And maybe it's just their passion that opens doors. They can make us think of our audience differently, the music we play and the way we practice. It's inspirational having these people come here."
The one tune on In Transition credited solely to Hamilton is the beautiful ballad "Dusk": "That one is very precious to me," Hamilton admits, "and it's also a very difficult trumpet track because it's pushing up towards the upper limits of my range. It's a really slow tune with a lot of long notes so it's really testing me just to play that head. I've chosen to go a non-vibrato route in the transition towards the sound I'm trying to go to because it forces me to get a bigger sound and to be more creative with my embouchure, with how I drop the air in and out, how I do a tongue attack or a breath attack or how I fade out. It's made me think very differently about my approach and it's made me work harder."
Two of the tracks on In Transition are by pianist Johnny Taylor, an indispensable member of Hamilton's quintet, as the trumpeter readily admits: "He was such an inspiration for the first album that I named it after him," says Hamilton in reference to Taylor Made. I have a trumpet called a Taylor and a lot of people thought I named the album after my trumpet but I actually named it after Johnny. His temperament, his personality, the way he galvanizes the spirit of the band and the way he makes us respect the melody by his voicings in everything he plays and the spaces he creates was such a shock to me," says Hamilton.
"He's very, very sensitive as a human being, as an improviser and as an accompanist. He has really strong ideas on how he wants the music to happen and he is so gentle in the way that he passes that information on in the band that we so want to bring to life his ideas. He's a very democratic player and he more than anybody has made the sound of the band what it is. He's a beautiful person. I can't speak highly enough about Johnny Taylor."
Taylor may not lead any of his own groups as yet, but Hamilton is in no doubts as to his influence on any number of ensembles: "Every group he's in he kind of leads," says Hamilton. "He's the MD of the trio that works with [singer] Cormac Kenevey, he's the MD of the trio that works with [singer] Emily Conway, he's the MD of the trio that works with [guitarist/singer] Nigel Mooney and whether he's in charge of those bands or not is debatable but he's in charge of the rhythm sections. Anyone who works with the guy feels the same way; he's very special. The music comes first. You never get the impression listening to Johnny Taylor that he wants people to see how good he is; it doesn't come into his psyche at all."
Plenty would say the same about Hamilton, whose first step into jazz came at a young age: "I started playing trumpet at primary school when I was nine," says Hamilton. Back in the 1970s—a troubled time for Northern Ireland—"jazz" meant the trad jazz of Dixieland and New Orleans: "There was no modern, mainstream stuff going on at all when I started playing," Hamilton recalls.
"I bought a record when I was about eleven and it was Terry Lightfoot At the Jazz Band Ball (Stereo Gold Award Recordings, 1974) and the only reason I bought it was because the guy playing trumpet in the photograph on the front cover in a linen suit had black hair and looked dead like me. Or I thought I looked dead like him, even though I was only eleven. I assumed that because he was a trumpet player he was Terry Lightfoot, because the trumpet player was always the boss as far as I was concerned."
Regardless of who resembled who, the record had a major impact on the young Hamilton: "I put a hole in that record I played it that many times," he says. "It was only whenever I was thirty that I discovered Terry Lightfoot was a clarinetist; if I had known that when I bought the record I probably wouldn't have played jazz. So that was my very first influence."
Inevitably perhaps, given the limitations of the jazz scene in Northern Ireland at that time Hamilton graduated to playing in swing and Dixieland bands. While still in his teens he also began to perform in the Irish Youth Jazz Orchestra, which at that time was led by trombonist Bobby Lamb. Originally from Cork, Lamb played in the bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and he toured extensively with singers Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. Lamb was head of jazz at Trinity College of Music, London when he was enticed over to conduct the all-Irish orchestra.
Lamb's influence and expertise was important in bringing along many of the aspiring Irish jazz musicians of the day: "A lot of guys like Brendan Doyle, Stephen Donald, Ronan Dooney, Michael Buckley, Dermod Harland ... too many people to recount were all part of that band," recalls Hamilton. "Bobby Lamb was so influential that a lot of the guys who were in that band then are the foremost players in Ireland today. That was really where it all started for me."
Hamilton has special words for his great friend, the late Dermod Harland. Hamilton was a member of saxophonist Harland's quintet and together they played with Van Morrison at Belfast City Hall, when US President Bill Clinton visited in 1995 to give a push to the peace process. Harland, who died more than a decade ago, was a unifying force musically: "He was a real gentleman," says Hamilton, "and he provided a link between so many music scenes. He would have been the most significant figure in the jazz related scene in Northern Ireland had he survived."
With the impetus from the Irish Youth Jazz Orchestra Hamilton moved onto to various small ensembles and began putting his own bands together. It's been a long road for Hamilton to get to where he is today: "I've worked hard at it along the way," he says, "and only really now am I starting to like the sound I'm making and starting to have confidence that I know exactly the musical approach I want to take with a song. I'm starting to think that whenever people hear me they think, oh yeah, that's Linley Hamilton; I'm only starting to think that way myself"
Jazz has come a long way in Northern Ireland in the thirty years since Hamilton first started out, though trad jazz still has its adherents: "A lot of the older guys have passed away, unfortunately, but traditional jazz still exists," says Hamilton. Some of them still play—Billy Bryson, Trevor Foster and banjo player Victor Daley, who's the main man. There's an older audience for it who have grown up with them and followed them for forty or fifty years. The big difference now is that there are so many young players between twenty and fifty who are playing more modern, contemporary jazz. There are people who are real drivers like [drummer] David Lyttle, who's not even thirty yet and has his own record label with twenty five albums on it."
Hamilton talks of "the jazz community" and the mutual support that exists between musicians: "They're very supportive of each other. They work hard to play on and promote each other's records and to go to each other's gigs. They're posting on Facebook and Tweeting and it seems that now you've got a team of people who see jazz as the main thing in their lives and they want to support everybody who's doing it. The music is not funded here so it's a team effort to make it work. These people are generating a force for the greater good and they realize that we're all in this journey together."
Still, there seems to exist a North-South divide to a degree, with relatively few jazz bands making the journey across the now invisible border in either direction. That was understandable in the dark old days of political strife in the North, but in these relatively saner times it's more difficult to understand.
"In the old days there was a lot more money in the South of Ireland for playing jazz so there was a long period when Southern musicians didn't make the trek up and Northern musicians have usually made the trek down," explains Hamilton, who feels that the situation is improving: "In the last two or three years a lot of Southern musicians are making the trek up because there's now greater parity between the incomes to be earned. The traffic is starting to happen. As you know my main band is all based in Dublin now so I guess I'm one of the champions of making that cross-border thing happen."
Hamilton is one of the notable exceptions, regularly making the two hour journey down to Dublin, but it's not always easy to convene his band: "They are such good players they are in demand and sometimes it's hard to say to them that I need five days in September. I'm really reluctant to work with a dep because the music is so intricate and the guys have such a good understanding of each other's roles in the band that it really is a big thing bringing in somebody who's not in the band," Hamilton says. "If I can't everybody together I tend not to go with it."
Hamilton has long been an in-demand musician himself, playing with a wide range of top jazz musicians. Collaborative highlights have been many but the first name that springs to Hamilton's mind is one that might be all that familiar to many people outside UK jazz circles: "One of my ambitions was met earlier in the year when I played with my favorite pianist, a guy called Dave Newton," says Hamilton. "It was an emotional experience because there's something about the way he makes music come to life. He's probably the most beautiful musician I've ever worked with."
Another musician who was on that gig with Newton was saxophonist Alan Barnes: "He's a real leader and an evangelist for so much of what's good in jazz," says Hamilton. "He gets in his car and drives 500 miles to do a gig and he does gigs and workshops all over the UK and Ireland. Alan Barnes should get an MBE. He does more for jazz in the UK than anybody I've ever met. It was such an honor to work with those two guys. I so want to collaborate with them again."
Then there's the Celtic soul-man Van Morrison, still going strong after fifty years in the business: "I've had a few opportunities to play with him and they've always been wonderful," Hamilton enthuses. "He loves the music and the players. He's very respectful of the players but he has strong ideas of how he wants his music to sound and everybody who plays with it. It would be silly of me not to admit that he's my all-time musical hero. He's my favorite song-writer so every time I play with him it's inspiring. If you think about his output and his longevity—he's the greatest. I played a wedding last night at Ballymac in West Belfast and kids aged fifteen and sixteen were singing the words of some of Van Morrison's songs; that's all you have to say. He's the greatest of all time."
The main musician that Hamilton plays with in the North is pianist Scott Flanigan, whom Hamilton has played with for the past seven years: "I work with him an awful lot in a whole lot of different ensembles. He's my first call for everything," says Hamilton. "He understands my music. He's technically and harmonically extremely proficient. I don't have to say anything to him in advance of playing a piece. He's got an overview of how the gig should go. He's my right-hand man."
Flanigan and Hamilton play together in a trio with blues guitarist Ronnie Greer—a close friend of Hamilton: "We've got something which we believe is very unique," says Hamilton. "It's a thrill for Scott and I to play with Ronnie. Ronnie gets so much out of one note. His performances are inspiring. He puts everything into it. He stretches himself to the maximum so you have to play well." Another player that Hamilton singles out is David Howell: "He's a phenomenal tenor saxophonist with a very modern sound. He's got an incredible ear, perfect pitch and a great feel for horn lines."
Of course, in jazz as in any walk of life there exist hierarchies, but in Hamilton's experience there's very little snobbishness in the jazz community: "There's a hierarchy of people on the way up and on the way down and the ones who are at the top I find generally, are very supportive of the ones on the way up or on the way down," Hamilton relates. "They see it as part of the social structure of that dynasty."
Another of Hamilton's major roles is as host of the Linley Hamilton Show—his weekly Friday night jazz program for BBC Radio Ulster. In 2007, when Hamilton pitched his idea to BBC Radio Ulster there was already one long-running jazz show, but Hamilton saw an opportunity and seized it: "Walter Love's jazz show was extremely good but there was maybe a gap in the market for what a lot of the younger players were creating and the influences that they were listening to, which he wasn't able to fill this in during a one-hour show," explains Hamilton. There was a domestic product that I felt needed to be reflected so I approached the BBC about hosting the show seven years ago and it's been running ever since."
Hamilton certainly doesn't take the show for granted: "I owe the BBC a great deal," he admits. It maybe didn't need to have two jazz shows in a small country like Northern Ireland but it does. The BBC champions both the shows and gives me a free rein to play the music I want."
The BBC also encouraged Hamilton to do interviews with jazz musicians and in addition to promoting Irish and Ireland-based jazz musicans whenever he can, Hamilton has also been able to persuade some great international names to appear on his show: "I've had some incredible interviews with people like [trumpeter] Randy Brecker, singer Bobby McFerrin, [saxophonist] Jan Garbarek, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, bassist/singer Richard Bona and [bassist/guitarist] Walter Becker from Steely Dan—they've all been guests on the show and it's been a real thrill."
Hamilton has a wish list of musicians he'd still like to interview on his show. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who passed away in 2008 was the one that got away: "I deeply regret not having him on," laments Hamilton. "He was my biggest influence as a trumpet player." Then there's Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick: "He's very influential on my music and I believe he has transformed the trumpet almost as much as Michael Brecker transformed the saxophone. The way he sculpts the sound and the way he has restructured the role of the trumpet so that it plays as a rhythm section instrument as well as a melodic instrument makes him one of the most important trumpet players in Europe, if not the world."
Hamilton also cites a very different type of trumpeter in Arturo Sandoval: "Check out the video of him playing the American national anthem at the Orange Bowl and have a box of tissues in close supply and a brush and pan handy because whenever your jaw hits the ground you can brush your teeth up. It's the most unbelievable thing you will ever see," says Hamilton.
Surprisingly perhaps, it's neither a trumpeter or even a jazz musician who tops Hamilton's interview wish list: "The most important person to me in my life musically speaking is [Steely Dan vocalist] Donald Fagan." Hamilton admits to being a late covert to Steely Dan, having discovered them only in the past ten years but the particular magic that Fagan and Becker weave has impacted Hamilton greatly: "There's something about the vocal harmonies, the intelligence of the lyrics and one of the things that gob smacks me is the role of the drummer and how they hardly ever break the groove. In the drum parts there isn't even a fill. The song comes first. That's what music is about, isn't it?"
Hamilton uses the platform of his radio show to tirelessly promote jazz throughout Ireland. He promotes Ireland's jazz festivals and club gigs and profiles the musicians who are the lifeblood of the national jazz scene: "Anywhere there's a gig I tell people about it," Hamilton says, "you know, to try and cement the jazz family."
The music that Hamilton programs on his show belongs in the main to the contemporary scene: "If I play nine tracks per show then six or seven will be from within the past three years," he explains. "I'm really focusing on new releases because I want the listeners to associate the music they are hearing with artists who are actually performing here and now and gigging at a place near them. The musicians of today have to have a voice and they have to have a platform. There's plenty of opportunity to watch and to listen to the greats but there are people playing now who in ten, twenty or forty years time will be the greats. Let's make the new greats," Hamilton stresses with an evangelizer's zeal.
There are still musical goals to be achieved— part of the ongoing transition in Hamilton's sound and approach to composition and improvisation: "I've arrived at this sound and I'm going to try to create space in my phrasing to allow the sound to dominate so that there's a lot more gravity with each note I play," he explains. "Secondly, I've never quite managed to achieve the angularity in my playing, and by that I mean looking at the intervallic structure of the notes that are beside each other in a solo, so I'm looking at triadic playing— in other words notes that are arpeggic or scalar in relation to each other.
"I realize I could still be improvising melodically but with notes that are more separated intervalically. I can do it but I need to put a lot of hours in to make those phrases cement the way my normal phrasing works. If I can create opportunities where I can play in an intervalically wider situation during my solos at times with the same fluency I have working triadically, I know I'm probably going to achieve everything that I really want to whenever I play."
The year ahead will be a busy and significant one for Hamilton, who all being well will complete his PHD: "Hopefully the radio show will keep going and I'll keep evangelizing. I want to gig and tour with the album band—we've got Cork coming up and the Sunflower Festival. I want to maintain my work ethic of doing around two hundred and fifty jazz gigs a year, which I do every year."
Not surprisingly, Hamilton's thoughts are also firmly focused on what he can do for the young generation of jazz musicians: "I want to help bring the next generation through by getting them to play and by endorsing them," he enthuses. "I'd like to set that up in some kind of formal way and keep supporting the local artists. Jazz is a social language, a social construct. It's like religion in many ways; it's how people choose to live their lives. There's enough in that construct while you're on earth to create an environment of friendship, support and mentoring."