Born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, reedman/composer/arranger/producer/musical director/ bandleader Jazz Hamilton was a child prodigy who began his professional career at the age of 14. The following is a conversation with the accomplished musician conducted from his office in Orlando, Florida.
Rudy Mangual: When did your musical journey begin?
Jazz Hamilton: Since the age of three, I knew I was going to be a musician. By my fourth birthday, I was serenading my neighbors from the balcony of our third floor apartment, belting out hit songs from the repertoire of my favorite singer, Héctor Lavoe.
RM: Did you want to be a singer?
JH: Yes, as a child I loved singing, but the first time I saw a saxophone I immediately fell in love with the instrument and it's been with me most of my life. At the age of 11, I was enrolled at the Escuela Libre de Música de Caguas (Conservatory of Music of Caguas), and developed into the most advanced and popular saxophone student of the school. After two years under the tutelage of my professor, the maestro Pedro Luis Jiménez, he enrolled me in the Escuela Libre de Música of Hato Rey in the county of San Juan, where I took advanced classes with the renowned professor Leslie López, who then referred me to the legendary Puerto Rican reedman Lito Peña (leader of the popular Orquesta Panamericana). In 1982, I went to study at the Hart Conservatory of Music in Connecticut, concentrating in music performance under the guidance of Professor Jackie Mclean.
RM: Who did you initially starter performing professionally with?
JH: As a teen, I began my professional music career by becoming the lead alto saxophonist for Caguas' "Taller de Jazz," an experimental jazz big band under the direction of Andrés "Maco" Torres (an amazing trumpeter and musician, compadre of the late trumpeter Juancito Torres). But soon thereafter, the yearning to play salsa, which runs through the blood of every Puerto Rican musician, became stronger and louder by the day, until I finally gave in. Initially, I started playing as a sideman with several bands, moving on to doing arrangements here and there for several other bands, and as the word got around, I became the musical director for international salsa artists such as Marvin Santiago, Domingo Quiñones, Andy Montañez, Cano Estremera, Adalberto Santiago, Luisito Carrión, and Luigi Texidor, among many others throughout the years.
RM: Could you tell our readers what is the function of a...