A zen drummer and champion of jazz. Fresno music scene mourns Brian Hamada

Jazz drummer and educator Brian Hamada died Aug. 10, 2018 at the age of 58.
Jazz drummer and educator Brian Hamada died Aug. 10, 2018 at the age of 58.

Brian Hamada was more than a genius jazz drummer with a mass knowledge of rhythms and impeccable sense of timing.

He was also a teacher, mentor and inspiration to those around him, according to the mass of remembrances posted on social media following his death last week. He was 58.

“I’m at a loss for words upon hearing the news that my childhood musical mentor, Brian Hamada, has passed away,” Bay Area percussionist Jim Santi Owen said in a post on Facebook.

“If I have had any success as a musician it is in large part due to the influence of this man,” he wrote.

Mr. Hamada died Aug. 10 following a long battle with cancer that his family described as “stoic.” He is survived by wife Lori Wall Hamada, daughter Madeline Hamada and son Evan Hamada.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 22 at the United Japanese Christian Church in Clovis followed by a musical celebration of his life at 4 p.m. Sept. 2 at the Fresno Buddhist Church, Family Dharma Center.

In lieu of flowers, the family is urging people to donate to the Brian Hamada Scholarship Fund, which the drummer requested to be set up in his name to support Jazz Performance majors at CSU Fresno, where he taught applied jazz drumset and jazz history.

You can give online at fresnostate.edu/giving or by mail at College of Arts and Humanities Development Office 2380 E. Keats Ave. M/S MB99 Fresno, CA 93740-8024. Check are payable to Fresno State Foundation (note Brian Hamada in the memo).

Over the past 30 years, Mr. Hamada has been an integral part of Fresno’s music scene, performing with and or instructing a long list of the city’s top jazz and pop musicians. He also backed touring artists like Andrea Bocelli, Don Ho, Bob Hope, Dick Contino and Joan Rivers and also did studio work — his drumming can be heard on the jingles for Table Mountain Casino, The Big Fresno Fair and Fresno Distributing.

As such, Mr. Hamada was recently invited to serve on the advisory board for the newly formed Valley Music Hall of Fame. He helped come up with criteria and a possible list of inaugural nominees for the jazz category.

While Mr. Hamada was a jazz guy (he was on the faculty of the Milestones Youth Jazz Summer Camp), his legacy defies genre.

Vince Warner recalled on Facebook sharing the stage with Mr. Hamada. It was “one of the greatest things that I’ve ever experienced as a musician,” Warner said.

It was a fill-in gig for Warner’s band, which was backing an Elvis impersonator at a big outdoor festival. Mr. Hamada was well prepared for the show and performed with stunning musicality.

“Every time I’d turn back to look at Brian, his arms and legs would be absolutely flailing, playing all those magnificent (Elvis’ drummer) Ronnie Tutt parts to perfection, driving the band like a locomotive, but his face was completely calm and stoic as he ... read his chart. He had charted out every song, and he sat there, playing like a wild man, while calmly reading his charts,” Warner wrote.

“It was amazing.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee