Hampton Hawes – Four!

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More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • Four! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with stellar Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • The timbre of the instruments in this brilliant jazz quartet is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off
  • Roy DuNann engineered some of the best sounding records we have ever heard – here’s a textbook example of what the audiophiles at Contemporary were able to achieve in the studio
  • 5 stars: “Pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1950s recordings for the Contemporary label are at such a high level that they could all be given five stars.”

This vintage Contemporary Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Hampton Hawes’ Four! from 1958 have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

Roy Dunann

We love the recordings made at the legendary Contemporary Records in the ’50s and ’60s — it’s our favorite jazz label for sonics by a long shot. Roy DuNann, their principal engineer, always seems to get The Sound of Real Instruments out of the sessions he recorded — amazingly realistic drums in a big room; full-bodied, breathy horns; Tubey Magical guitar tone; deep, note-like bass; weighty pianos; vocal immediacy, and on and on.

On the better pressings such as this one, there’s just nothing between you and the music. You will have a very hard time finding a much better sounding jazz record than this very copy.

What We’re Listening For on Four!

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the piano, guitar, and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Roy DuNann in this case — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Hampton Hawes – piano
Barney Kessel – guitar
Red Mitchell – double bass
Shelly Manne – drums


Side One

Yardbird Suite
There Will Never Be Another You
Bow Jest

Side Two

Sweet Sue
Up Blues
Like Someone In Love
Love Is Around The Corner

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Pianist Hampton Hawes’ 1950s recordings for the Contemporary label are at such a high level that they could all be given five stars. This outing with bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Shelly Manne, and guitarist Barney Kessel (who is a slight wild card) is also quite successful. Two previously unreleased numbers (“Thou Swell” and “The Awful Truth”) have been added to the CD reissue. Highlights of the exciting bop date include “Yardbird Suite,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and “Love Is Just Around the Corner.”

Amazon 5 Star Rave Review

Hampton Hawes was the house pianist for Contemporary Records, that LA-based jazz label in the 50’s and 60’s. I first heard him on several other artist’s albums, and since he stood out, I decided to give “Four” a listen. This is a great album!

Hawes has been compared to Horace Silver, but he is much more adventurous as an improviser than Silver was. He has a sort-of staccato sound that is similar to Silver’s, but can really stretch out.

This album is vintage. His sidemen (Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell bass, Shelly Manne drums) are outstanding and the band really cooks. The first track, Yardbird Suite, has a looser, bouncier feel than any rendition that I have heard and it really swings. Other outstanding tracks include Thou Swell, There Will Never Be Another You. He is really better on up-tempo numbers – the ballads aren’t quite up to the same level here.

This is a great record that deserves several listenings!

-“Rick Loves Jazz” (Amazon Reviewer)

Life and Career

Hawes was self-taught; by his teens he was playing with the leading jazz musicians on the West Coast, including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, and Teddy Edwards. His second professional job, at 18, was playing for eight months with the Howard McGhee Quintet at the Hi De Ho Club, in a group that included Charlie Parker.

After serving in the U.S. Army in Japan from 1952 to 1954, Hawes formed his own trio, with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Chuck Thompson. The three-record Trio sessions made by this group in 1955 on Contemporary Records were considered some of the finest records to come out of the West Coast at the time. The next year, Hawes added guitarist Jim Hall for the All Night Sessions. These were three records made during a non-stop overnight recording session.

After a six-month national tour in 1956, Hawes won the “New Star of the Year” award in Down Beat magazine, and “Arrival of the Year” in Metronome. The following year, he recorded in New York City with Charles Minguson the album Mingus Three (Jubilee, 1957).

Struggling for many years with a heroin addiction, in 1958 Hawes became the target of a federal undercover operation in Los Angeles. Investigators believed that he would inform on suppliers rather than risk ruining a successful music career. Hawes was arrested on heroin charges on his 30th birthday but refused to cooperate and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. In the intervening weeks between his trial and sentencing, Hawes recorded an album of spirituals and gospel songs, The Sermon.

In 1961, while at a federal prison hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, Hawes was watching President Kennedy’s inaugural speech on television, and became convinced that Kennedy would pardon him. With help from inside and outside the prison, Hawes submitted an official request for a presidential pardon. In an almost miraculous turn, in August 1963, Kennedy granted Hawes executive clemency, the 42nd of only 43 such pardons given in the final year of Kennedy’s presidency.

After being released from prison, Hawes resumed playing and recording. During a world tour in 1967–68, he was startled to discover that he had become a legend among jazz listeners overseas. During a ten-month tour of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Hawes recorded nine albums, played sold out shows and concert halls in ten countries, and was covered widely in the press, including appearances on European television and radio.

Raise Up Off Me, Hawes’ autobiography, written with Don Asher and published in 1974, shed light on his heroin addiction, the bebop movement, and his friendships with some of the leading jazz musicians of his time. It was the first book about the bebop era written by a musician, and won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for music writing in 1975. Critic Gary Giddins, who wrote the book’s introduction, called Raise Up Off Me “a major contribution to the literature of jazz.” The Penguin Guide to Jazz cites it as “one of the most moving memoirs ever written by a musician, and a classic of jazz writing.”

In the 1970s, Hawes experimented with electronic music (Fender-Rhodes made a special instrument for him), although eventually he returned to playing the acoustic piano.

Hampton Hawes died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage in 1977, at the age of 48. He was buried next to his father, Hampton Hawes, Sr., who had died five months earlier. In 2004, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution declaring November 13 “Hampton Hawes Day”.