Jimmy Hamilton

Jimmy Hamilton (May 25, 1917 – September 20, 1994) was an American jazz clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, arranger, composer, and music educator, best known for his twenty-five years with Duke Ellington.

Jimmy Hamilton
Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney, Aquarium NYC, ca. November 1946.
Photography by William P. Gottlieb.
Background information
Birth nameJames Hamilton
Born(1917-05-25)May 25, 1917
Dillon, South Carolina, United States
DiedSeptember 20, 1994(1994-09-20) (aged 77)
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
InstrumentsClarinet, saxophone
Associated actsDuke Ellington


Hamilton was born in Dillon, South Carolina, and grew up in Philadelphia. Having originally learned to play piano and brass instruments, in the 1930s he started playing the latter in local bands, before switching to clarinet and saxophone. During this time he studied with renowned clarinet teacher Leon Russianoff. In 1939 he played with Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Mundy, and Bill Doggett, going on to join the Teddy Wilson sextet in 1940. After two years with Wilson, he played with Eddie Heywood and Yank Porter.

In 1943, he replaced Barney Bigard in the Duke Ellington orchestra, and stayed with Ellington until 1968. His style was very different on his two instruments: on tenor saxophone he had an R&B sound, while on clarinet he was much more precise and technical. He wrote some of his own material in his time with Ellington.

After he left the Ellington orchestra, Hamilton played and arranged on a freelance basis, before spending the 1970s and 1980s in the Virgin Islands teaching music. On his retirement from teaching he continued to perform with his own groups in 1989 and 1990. Hamilton died September 20, 1994 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, at the age of 77.


As leader

  • 1953: "Big Fifty"/"Rockaway Special" (States Records)[1]
  • 1954: Jimmy Hamilton Orchestra (Jazz Kings)
  • 1955: Accent on Clarinet (Urania)
  • 1955: Clarinet in Hi-Fi (Urania)
  • 1960: Swing Low Sweet Clarinet (Everest)
  • 1961: It's About Time (Swingville)
  • 1961: Can't Help Swinging (Prestige)
  • 1985: Rediscovered Live at the Buccaneer (Who's Who in Jazz)
  • 1991: Jimmy Hamilton & the New York Jazz Quintet (Fresh Sound)
  • 1997: Sweet but Hot (Urania tracks - Drive Archive CD)
  • 1999: Jazz in July: at the Lafayette Club (Hambone Records)
  • 1999: Live at the Buccaneer (Jazz Time)

With the Clarinet Summit

  • In Concert at the Public Theater (1984)
  • Southern Bells (1987)

As sideman

With Duke Ellington (partial listing)

With Coleman Hawkins

With Johnny Hodges

With Oscar Pettiford

With Lucky Thompson

With Ben Webster


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