Chico Hamilton: You Remember What a Nickel Was

SKF NOTE: Just finished reading Hannah Rothschild’s biography of her Aunt, “The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild.” Excellent reading about a woman Thelonious “Toot” Monk, Jr. describes as a combination Santa Claus and Mother Theresa for Bebop era jazz musicians, most notably Thelonious Monk.

I have read many books and articles on jazz, on the Baroness, but I still learned new insights from Ms. Rothschild’s book. This exchange with Chico Hamilton is one example.

Chico Hamilton
Chico Hamilton

Hannah Rothschild: I asked [Thelonious] Monk’s contemporary, the legendary drummer Chico Hamilton, about his own career prospects in the 1930s.

“I had a choice of being a musician or a pimp,” Hamilton replied.

Assuming he’d made a joke, I smiled was promptly excoriated.

“You might smile,” he said, leaning towards me, his eyes blazing with fury,

The Baroness with Monk
The Baroness with Monk

jabbing a drumstick in my directions, “but when I was eight, nine, ten and eleven years old, I shined shoes. That was how I bought my first set of drums, shining shoes for a nickel. You remember what a nickel was. I would go out on a Wednesday and a Saturday from school, I would stay out all day Saturday until I made a dollar and then come home. I made enough money shining shoes, like I said, to buy my first set of drums. I have been making my living ever since. I was a lucky one.”


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