Orange’s Four-day Music City Festival Opens with Jazz Trombonist Slide Hampton Tribute

Slide Hampton. Credit:

Slide Hampton, the late Grammy-winning lefty trombonist, spent the last three decades of his life in Orange. The city will honor him with a banner this Tuesday at Walter G. Alexander Village at 105 Wilson Place, where the jazz musician lived in his final years. The ceremony, which is part of the four-day Music City Festival, will include a performance of his original compositions. 

“We wanted the celebration to happen right where Slide was living so that his friends and neighbors could be there,” said Douglas Farrand, the festival’s co-director.

In his final decade, Hampton kept a lower profile compared to his high-flying days playing the worlds’s most famous stages like Carnegie Hall. But he remained a mentor to young admirers, Farrand said.

“A lot of the musicians he was playing with were New Yorkers, which tells you something that a New Yorker would schlep out to Orange to rehearse for a gig with a budget we could afford,” said Farrand, also a community organizer at University of Orange, the nonprofit that runs the festival.

One of those musicians was Peter Lin, who helped lure Hampton out of late-in-life obscurity. “He’s my musical hero – there’s no doubt about that,” Lin said. “When trombonists study music, his name comes up all the time among the best trombonists — people say J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, and — immediately after — Slide Hampton.”

Lin, who plays with Glenn Franke’s Big Band, first met Hampton at a performance at Suzy Que’s in West Orange, which was a jazz and blues lounge. Hampton asked him to play something on the spot – and the musician, then in his eighties, was so impressed that the two became lifelong friends. 

Bob DeVos, celebrated guitarist and West Orange resident who played alongside Lin, remembers meeting Hampton on a night they played one of Hampton’s arrangements. “There was one memorable night when Slide was there with Don Sebesky,” DeVos said, noting that both were trombonists and arrangers in Maynard Ferguson’s big band. “They were both self-taught and they were two of the greatest.”

The admiration musicians had for Hampton’s virtuoso is evident in a solo performance at Dizzy Gillespie’s 70th birthday. J.J. Johnson called it the “most articulate performance I’ve ever heard on the trombone.”

“Slide played Oop-Pop-a-Da at about 100 miles per hour with about 100 choruses,” Johnson told Downbeat magazine.

Hampton was born in Jeannette, PA, but brought up in Indianapolis in a musical family that toured as the Duke Hampton Family Band. Traveling musical families were more common in that era, DeVos said, and helped launch careers of other jazz masters like Wes Montgomery and Freddy Hubbard, both from Indianapolis.

Duke Hampton Family Orchestra. Credit: Indiana Historical Society, Duncan Schiedt Collection

In the 1950s, Hampton finally struck out on his own. It was, however, an unusual era for a jazz musician. “A lot of jazz musicians were moving to Europe in the 60s,” said Lin, adding that the album Fabulous Slide Hampton Quartet is good example of his music period abroad. “They felt more appreciated and respected over there – particularly in Paris.”

 In 1977, after a decade abroad, Hampton finally came back to the United States to compose and record Dexter Gordon’s eight-track album, Sophisticated Giant, and decided to remain stateside. The tide had turned in the United States, Americans suddenly had a renewed appreciation for jazz, according to the New York Times

In the 90s, Hampton decided to leave the “distractions” of the city behind and moved out to the suburbs of New Jersey – to Orange, then West Orange, and back to Orange, according to Lamont Hampton, Slide’s middle child of three.

“He saw the beautiful homes and the open space,” Hampton.

Despite the peace and quiet of the suburbs, Hampton had an inner restlessness that drove him to practice his instrument obsessively. “Every morning he would brush his teeth, wash his horn, and practice and write music for hours,” Hampton’s son said.

In fact, Farrand said residents at the senior home sometimes complained about the endless blaring of his horn at ungodly hours of the day. “That isn’t always a sound you want in your apartment building,” Farrand said.

Hampton plays with a local ensemble at the Music City Festival in 2018. Credit: University of Orange.

Hampton’s son, who lives in Salt Lake City, said his father was dissatisfied with his ability and accolades. “I don’t think he realized how blessed he was,” said Lamont. “He was always climbing a mountain. He didn’t feel like he was on the level of Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Thelonius Monk – I believe he was there.”

In 2018, when the Music City Festival was in its second year and took place at only one venue, Hampton performed with a trombone ensemble if local musicians. Farrand, who is a musician and composer, hoped that his participation would become an annual tradition. But health problems and the pandemic intervened. Hampton died in 2021.

Today, the four-day festival spans six venues around Orange and includes a Stevie Wonder tribute at Inner City Cafe, 15 South Essex Avenue. Hampton, who was the musical director at Motown Records, collaborated with with Wonder.

“Music City’s mission is to celebrate Orange’s diverse and very rich musical culture,” Farrand said. “Anyone interested in jazz has heard of Slide or has one of his records on his shelf. When have you ever heard of an eight-trombone ensemble?”

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