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Slide Hampton didn't really have to think too much when it came to choosing a career. The 74-year-old Indianapolis-born jazz trombonist had musician parents and eight siblings who took up instruments at an early age. So, when Hampton was judged to be old enough to hold a trombone - at the age of 12 - he was drafted into the family band.
"In those days there were traditions," Hampton recalled from his hotel room in Slovenia where he was touring prior to his August 3-6 foray to this country. "If there were doctors in your family you studied medicine. My family was musical and there wasn't a trombonist, so that's what I was given to play. I've never regretted it." With a family band appearance at Carnegie Hall, a glittering career, and a couple of Grammy Awards under his belt, he evidently has no reason to.
In fact, Hampton is much more than "just" a top instrumentalist. Over the years he has garnered kudos by the bucketload as an arranger, composer, musical director and teacher. It is the latter activity which led to a fruitful teacher-student and subsequent co-instrumentalist relationship with young Israeli trombonist Yonatan Vulchuk.
Twenty-something Vulchuk, currently studying in New York, will be among the seven artists on stage in Jerusalem and Herzliya, and at Shuni Castle near Binyamina early next month. "Yonatan is a fine young player," enthuses Vulchuk's septuagenarian mentor. "He is already making his mark on the jazz scene."
Hampton's other colleagues on his Israeli tour, which is something of a trombone tour de force, include American trombonist Isaac Smith, our very own doyen of the instrument Avi Lebovich - who also studied with Hampton a decade or so ago in New York - and a local rhythm section of pianist Amit Golan, bass player Gilad Abro and drummer Doron Tirosh.
Despite his "obligatory" start, Hampton is very much a self-made man. "I don't think it's the instrument so much as the way you approach your art and yourself," he said. Hampton evidently has a healthy philosophy. He has enjoyed a highly successful career, spanning six decades to date, and has never been out of work, sharing the bandstand with the likes of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and drummer Art Blakey in the process.
He even managed to ride the influx of other genres into the public musical psyche in the '50s and '60s and came out in even better professional shape. With the industry in flux, many of Hampton's contemporaries moved across the Atlantic in search of more receptive audiences and a better living. For Hampton, though, it wasn't a matter of turning his back on the States. "I found so much work in Europe," he says. "So I just stayed on," living in France for six years. "Europe has a much richer cultural history so, naturally, there are more people to appeal to."
For his Israeli tour, Hampton delves into a culture from even further away, with material from his recent album Slide Plays Jobim - the Jobim in question, of course, being the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. "We'll play some things from the Jobim record, but there will be things written by other members of the band. It will definitely be a team effort," he said.
Slide Hampton and his band will perform at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem on August 3 at 9 p.m.; at Shuni Castle on August 4 at 9:30 p.m.; and at the Camelot Club in Herzliya on August 5 and 6 at 7 pm and 9:30 pm.
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