“245”: A Jazz history lesson in central Brooklyn

“245” is the name of an original jazz tune on Eric Dolphy’s 1960 album, “Outward Bound.” “245” is also the number of a three-story house on Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn.

It’s a house where jazz history was written in capital letters. Owned by Grammy Award winner Locksley Wellington Hampton, better known as Slide Hampton™, from the late 1950s to the late ‘70s, some of the most groundbreaking figures in jazz, including Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery lived there.

“It was a house full of musical inspiration,” said Hampton. “We were all composing music in some way. There was inspiration all over the place towards music and composition.”

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Hampton is an African-American trombonist whose career spans decades in the history of jazz. His work as composer, arranger, and bandleader has brought him worldwide recognition. At 81, Slide represents the influence of a definitive chapter of contemporary jazz and improvised music; a chapter dominated by bebop, a form of improvisation that emerged in the late 1940s led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Almost 40 years later, central Brooklyn still carries this legacy—and some of it revolves around Slide.

“We consider him a master,” said pianist and composer Dwight Brewster, better known as Dr. Mambo.

Brewster leads the Experience Ensemble, a group that performs regularly in New York City. He recognizes the influence Hampton had on him. “As all musicians know – if they are honest with themselves – we stand on the shoulders of the musicians who came before us. We own them a debt of gratitude for establishing a musical credibility for this area, and that’s the legacy we are trying to carry.”

Hampton does not think of himself as a legend. All he wants to do is touch people’s hearts. “I want to move people,” Hampton said. “I want to make them feel something; to make them become a part of the concert that is being played at the time.”

Hampton was a child prodigy, who began playing at the age of 12 with the Duke Hampton Band, his family’s Indianapolis jazz band. Later, he decided to move to New York, and after a trip that would take him over a year, Slide performed at Carnegie Hall with the Lionel Hampton Band in 1952 and moved to Harlem for a while.

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Long before winning two Grammy Awards and the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award, Hampton bought 245. The house, built in 1899, served as a harbor for a select group of jazz legends that at some point inhabited or visited this classic Fort Greene brownstone.

Slide says he had a big room in the basement, where he hosted jazz sessions. “And everybody came to those jam sessions,” he said. ” Gerry Mulligan and Bill Lee. A lot of musicians came because they always took any opportunity they could to come to a jazz session. That was very important at the time.”

The house has witnessed a backstage thread in jazz history that few know about. Jam sessions and non-stop talks about music influenced musicians that would expand the boundaries of each of their instruments.

“Slide was always very supportive of younger players like myself and very generous with tips on how to deal with the trombone,” said Jerry Tilitz, a trombonist, composer and vocalist originally from Brooklyn but presently residing in Hamburg, Germany.

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On its own, Slide’s group, the World of Trombones, will always be regarded as an ambitious brass ensemble including nine trombones and three rhythms. “When I came back from Europe in the late 70s, the trombone wasn’t very popular,” Hampton said. “ With the World of Trombones we kind of brought the sound back to the people.”

And in fact the trombone is still at the center of Hampton’s life. “It’s the one thing that is with me all the time, my trombone,” he said. “I like the fact that it has a lot to do with your human ability to judge the distance that you have to move to make the music.”

Central Brooklyn, where 245 Carlton Avenue is located, has a great tradition of jazz, of course, dating back to when when Hampton lived here.  It still does.  Nowadays, around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a new cultural district has formed. Several musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Wayne Shorter, Betty Carter, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Gregory Porter, and Freddie Hubbard have all been part of this community.

The sound of the neighborhood has changed, though, says Hampton, because of the explosion of cultural diversity and new technologies. And in his mind, that’s a good thing.

“The more different people are living together, the more you learn from people that are different than you are,” said Hampton, “There is music all over the world that you can learn from. It’s not just jazz, its not just classical music, you know.”

Follow the arrow in the timeline.

Places like Jazz966 located at 966 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, allow the locals to continue interacting with the genre. As one of the cultural arts programs at the Fort Greene Council, Jazz966 serves as a jazz club presenting live bands every Friday since 1990.  In January, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis appeared as a special guest.

Harold Valle, host at Jazz966, said he thinks several jazz legends have infused the community with their legacy. “They allow people to get a better understanding of their heritage,” he said. “Jazz is a music that was born here in America, it is something that the community appreciates.”

And its roots in Central Brooklyn have not faded. The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving, promoting and supporting live music, continues to thrive. “It was founded on the premise of uniting musicians to the community,” said Bob Myers, the consortium’s communications director. “We recognize the role that musicians play in perpetuating the culture of black people. Jazz is an American art form but was started by African-American people. It’s part of our culture.”

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Through his music, Hampton celebrated the role of African-Americans as well. The recording series “A Tribute to African-American Greatness includes four original compositions premiered in 2009. Songs honoring Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela were composed for his jazz ensemble. “I was very impressed with Nelson Mandela,” said Hampton. “He was too strong for me to ignore him.”

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For Hampton though much of what he feels strongly about goes back to the time he spent at 245. “It served as inspiration for many,” he said. 245, the house, certainly inspired the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, who wrote 245, the tune, that will always keep that Brooklyn spot in history. “Dolphy wrote the song living there,” Hampton said. “And he recorded that thing with Coltrane, who used to visit his cousin Mary. Living there for him was important.”

Brooklyn has become the epicenter of culture in New York. This year CBJC is organizing the “15th Annual Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival”, a celebration of jazz where more than 500 artists will perform at various venues throughout Brooklyn. The festival will take place during Jazz Appreciation Month, from March 28 thru April 30, 2014.

Regular spaces to enjoy live jazz are not that abundant as one might expect, but here is a map to the venues in the area.

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