In our earlier post on Fats Waller and his Rhythm, we mentioned the excellent but rather obscure trumpeter, John "Bugs" Hamilton (1911-47).
John was a regular with Fats and the Rhythm from 1939-42 and his clean,big-toned but always tasty blowing is a highlight of the later sessions. Most Fats fans appreciate the work of Herman Autrey who was on Fats' first session in 1934 and continued with the band into '39. Herman was a Louis-influenced hornman who also excelled in muted blowing. He had many inspired solos on the bands many '34-'39 sides.
John was born in St. Louis, a great city for trumpeters-Clark Terry, Charlie Creath, Shorty Baker and Miles Davis to name a few. His earliest pro band was that of trombonist Billy Kato in 1930-1, followed by a short stint with Chick Webb, Kaiser Marshall in 1935 and finally Fats. He started as an alternate member of the Rhythm,filling in for Autrey.
John first shows up on the Waller big band session of April 12, 1938. Fats put together touring bands occaisonally ,consisting of the Rhythm plus extra horns. Although Herman Autrey can be heard backing up Fats I believe John takes the tasty muted solo on Sheik of Araby and it sounds likes it's him on Hold my Hand playing Louis-like glisses over the band's out chorus.
John always played with great taste whether muted or open. Here are a few highlights from the Fats series.The formats were pretty standard with Fat's piano-vocal and horn solos. John always did a workmanlike job,but these selections stand out.
His first session with the Rhythm was for the Muzak Transcriptions. John has standout lead work and solos on The Sheik and After You've Gone and his muted work on B Flat Blues is very tasty.
John's first Bluebird date on 8/10/39 produced a tasty version of Fat's Squeeze Me with nice muted work by Bugs. You're Lettin' the Grass Grow (11/3/39) features good cup mute and lead.From the same date comes a rollicking Darktown Strutter's Ball with a hot open solo by JH and a high flying rideout with John popping off some high ones. Oh,Frenchy!(1/12/40) has strong open and lead work. From the same date, the 2 part instrumental Moon is Low has an outstanding 2 chorus solo by John with some Eldridge like runs. Part 2 features Fat's organ with Band riffs.
You run Your Mouth(4/11/40) has a tasty open solo with some half valving. Stop Pretending(7/16/40) has a band backround vocal ala Marie with a nice muted Hamilton solo and rideout. I always loved Fat's E flat Blues since I had the old RCA lp.John gets in a nice wa-wa mute solo and there's a stop-time band section ala Shoe Shiner's Drag.
Everybody Loves my Baby(11/6/40) is one of the classic Rhythm cuts. Bugs stars on the catchy riff,trades off with Gene Sedric and leads a hot rideout chorus. As the late Ray Smith would say"-Pure Joy-Pure Jazz."
Scram ! (same date) is a riff tune by Leonard Feather and has some nice muted horn by John, who could sound a bit like Charlie Shavers on cup mute. Buckin' the Dice (1/2/41) has some high flying lead work by JH. He had no trouble in the upper register and sounds a bit like Roy Eldridge, here.
You're Gonna be Sorry (3/20/41) is another high flying swinger with a fleet muted solo by JH and a wild out chorus before Fat's vocal coda.
It was back to the Waller Big Band on 7/1/41 and even though Rhythm veteran Herman Autrey is in the trumpet section, JH stars on the solos. On Chant of the Groove, John is in a swinging Eldridge mood. Ain't nothin' to It has JH's solid muted work. I believe the solo on Rump Steak Serenade is by Autrey.
Back to the Rhythm, on 10/1/41 Clarinet Marmalade was cut. Sedric gets some nice spots,but JH is the star with two scorching choruses and a red hot rideout. Fats plays organ on this side.
Back to the Big Band on 3/16/42 for You Must be Losing your Mind with a short growl spot for JH and the instrumental, Really Fine has an excellent muted solo.
The Rhythm's last session on 7/13/42 didn't have any JH solos, but featured a great Fats composition, Up Jumped you with Love with a nice riff by John and Gene and more of John's patented backup.
John also recorded a Bluebird session with pianist/vocalist Una Mae Carlisle(1915-56) on 8/2/40,along with Al Casey,guitar-Cedric Wallace,bass and Slick Jones,drums. So the band had a very Fats and his Rhythm feel.
Una Mae,a beautiful young lady was a protege of Fats,played nice stride piano and had a lovely,jazz vocal style. The tunes recorded that day were Papa's in Bed with his Britches On,a fun novelty with a short muted solo by John. Now I Lay me Down to Sleep was a popular hit for Una and John provides pretty backup and a lovely melody solo ala Shavers. If I Had You and You Made me Love You follow similar formats with John getting short muted solos.
Una Mae is another neglected performer and will get her own post here,soon.
At this time we have no info on how John got his nickname of "Bugs" but will be back with an Addendum when we find out.
John played with violinist Eddie South in 1943,then dissapears from the music scene, due to poor health and bout with tuberculosis which took him in August of 1947 at the too young age of 36. He died in his home of St.Louis.
John was one of many hard working jazz musicians who didn't get the praise they deserved. Thankfully all his Waller recordings are available on RCA Bluebird and Classics. The Una Mae Carlisle session is on her series on Classics. The '39 Transcriptions (along with Fats' '35 sessions) is on a Viper's Nest CD.
If you're a Fats Waller fan or love good jazz trumpet,you'll become a fan of John "Bugs" Hamilton.