Wynton’s Blog

Sitting next to Jeff Hamilton judging the Essentially Ellington Festival is the highlight of my year

I truly love Jeff Hamilton. He is not only deeply soulful and totally engaged with the music, he is incredibly funny. Sitting next to him judging the Essentially Ellington Festival is the highlight of my year. Even though we constantly joke and laugh, he has pure integrity about listening to and respecting each band’s level of preparation, seriousness, and also their jitters. Even disagreeing with him is fun because he is strongly opinionated (but never didactic).

He and his wife Joni have been married for 37 years. “Continuously,” he says. Unfortunately, the festival always falls either on, or right before, their wedding anniversary, but Joni lets him do it anyway. She is a fantastic designer of jewelry with an impressive shop, Hamilton Butler Jewels, in Hermosa Beach, California.

For years I didn’t know this. I would only notice that Jeff was always resplendently accoutered and royally bedecked with original cufflinks and accessories. This year he was blinding me with stylish bling and purposely and flamboyantly flashing some subtly-studded pieces Joni made for him. Every time he moved a pencil to write a comment, “Bam!” a quick stab of lightning. After a day of this non-stop humiliation, we engaged in a competitive verbal exchange. I decided to show up the next morning with my most powerful cufflinks…of course, they were trumpets. What do you think he showed up sporting?! You know it. Some maddeningly fabulous drums she made for him. When we flashed each other in the morning, we just shook our heads and cracked up.

It’s the spirit. Drummers and trumpeters have been connected since the days of Old Egypt; military campaigns throughout history used bugles and drums; Haydn and Beethoven symphonies flourish with trumpets and drums; what’s a circus without trumpet and drums? Two most misbehaving sections in a high school marching band? Trumpet and percussion. If you lose drum parts in a big band, what do you give them? First trumpet part. At the bottom of it all for Jeff and me, we’re trumpet and drums.


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