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VOL. 122 | NO. 205 | Monday, October 29, 2007

Sliding in Memphis: Jazz legend could establish club here

By Andy Meek

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LEGEND COMING: A deal is in the works to license the name of jazz legend Slide Hampton for use in a new music and restaurant venue being developed in Memphis. -- Photo Courtesy Of Mark Blackshear

Slide Hampton, a Grammy-winning jazz trombonist whose performing career has taken him everywhere from Carnegie Hall to "The Cosby Show," is in talks to lend his name to a new music and restaurant venue in Memphis.

Hampton's manager, Tony Charles, said he plans to visit the city in early November to scout possible locations for the local club, which ultimately could be one of several developed around the country with Hampton's name attached to them.

Those other club locations, however, are still in the early planning stages and not as far along as what's being discussed for Memphis.

"We're going to try to bring some jazz, funk and whatever else we can and converge it into one club and just try to make a lot of people happy," Charles said. "It's realistic, it's just a matter of agreeing to terms that are fair to both sides.

"I know (Memphis) is a different market ... so that's another reason I'm coming down. I would like to familiarize myself with how things are there and feel more comfortable knowing what kind of environment we're going to be dealing with."

Distinguished career

Hampton, who turned 75 in April, is widely recognized as one of the elder statesmen of jazz. One of the highlights of his career came in 2005, the year the National Endowment for the Arts gave Hampton its Jazz Master Award, the group's highest honor in jazz.

By the time he was 20, Hampton already was playing Carnegie Hall in New York City. Several decades later he found an even larger stage via his musical contribution to "The Cosby Show."

Hampton's small role in that hit NBC TV series was as a member of the fictional jazz band that included Russell Huxtable, the father of the show's main character Cliff, played by Bill Cosby. Hampton's real-life friends and contemporaries, including Jimmy Heath, also performed in that band on the show.

A 2006 New York Times concert review described Hampton as having a "full and slightly foggy sound, warm and mellow even in the upper reaches of his range."

Exclusive club

Negotiations for the Memphis club and restaurant venue, meanwhile, include a variety of details Charles is involved in, including bookings, aesthetics and the eventual theme of the club.

Possible locations Charles will be shown when he comes to town in November include at least one site by Memphis International Airport.

"We're trying to do something different, to establish something like a jazz membership club," said Charles Knight, one of the local partners in Hampton's possible Memphis venture.

Knight said the tentative goal is to have a location picked and then open by the spring of 2008. Other details still are being worked out.

"Tony Charles is going to book all the jazz acts. I think it's going to run Tuesdays through Sundays, and then Slide could come in four times a year, but he'd also have the option to come in whenever he wants to," Knight said.

Even if a deal ultimately doesn't come to fruition between Hampton, his manager and the local partners currently involved, Charles said he'd still be interested in pursuing a club development opportunity in Memphis to which Hampton could license his name.

In many ways, Memphis was a natural choice to launch Hampton's first in the series of jazz club ventures, given the city's rich musical legacy. Charles said the choice also came about through an early conversation with one of the partners involved in the new Memphis venture.

One of the partners "had called me about booking Jimmy Heath at another facility that he had in Memphis, and we got to talking about booking Mr. Hampton to play at this club called the Fox's Den," Charles said. "I'd also spoken with him about some things over the past year and a half or so, so that's really how it got started."

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