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Jazz Remembered


Lionel Hampton


Lionel Hampton


Tony Augarde suggests: 'How about featuring drummer (and other things) Lionel Hampton? He pioneered the vibraphone as a suitable instrument for jazz, and his work with the Benny Goodman Quartet gave the group much of its excitement. He and Gene Krupa provided much of the impetus, while Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson were perhaps the more "refined" members of the group. His work with his own groups in the late thirties was astonishingly good and varied. He was a versatile musician: vibist, drummer, two-fingered pianist and bandleader.  He could swing as richly as almost any other jazz player and I feel that (like Dizzy Gillespie) he is often underestimated because of his antics.'

Lionel Leo Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky on 20th April, 1908 where he was cared for by his grandmother. His mother then took him to her home town of Birmingham in Alabama. After a period in Wisconsin, the family moved to Chicago in 1916. Not allowed to join the segregated Boy Scouts, he joined the alternative Bud Billiken Club, a social club for black young people in Chicago, established in 1923, by the Chicago Defender. He was still a teenager when he started taking xylophone lessons from Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodd's sideman drummer Jimmy Bertrand, and that was when he also began playing drums.

The Chicago Defender also had a 'Newsboys Band' and Lionel started playing drums with them. He moved to California in 1927 / 1928, played with the Dixieland Blue-Blowers and made his recording debut with Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders. Moving on to Culver City he joined Les Hite's band at Sebastian's Cotton Club. As a drummer he did stunts with multiple pairs of sticks, twirling and juggling without missing a beat, and he would play a couple of numbers on vibraphone. During the early 1930s he studied music at the University of Southern California and in 1934 started his own orchestra, appearing in the film Pennies From Heaven (1936) alongside Louis Armstrong (wearing a mask in a scene while playing drums).

Click here for the scene from the film and the number Skeleton In The Closet.

In 1936, he was invited to join Benny Goodman's Trio which then became the famous Benny Goodman Quartet with Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman QuartetGene Krupa. The bands were one of the first racially integrated jazz groups to perform before audiences. Affectionately known as 'Gates', 'Hamp' and 'Mad Lionel' he stayed with Goodman until 1940 when he decided to form his own big band. Click here for a video of the Benny Goodman Quartet from 1937 with I Got A Heartful Of Music from the film Hollywood Hotel.


The Benny Goodman Quartet


The Lionel Hampton Orchestra was prominent in the 1940s and 1950s and perhaps their best know recording was Flying Home that also featured a solo by Illinois Jacquet.



Here is a video of Lionel Hampton and his band playing Flying Home from 1957.




And so started a time recording for Decca with many young jazz musicians including bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington as well as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, and Snooky Young and trombonist Jimmy Cleveland. The Hampton Orchestra that toured Europe in 1953 included Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, and singer Annie Ross. In 1955, while in California working on The Benny Goodman Story he recorded with Stan Getz and made two albums with Art Tatum. There are a number of short clips online from The Benny Goodman Story, but they are not very satisfying for this article. Lionel Hampton is fleetingly featured in Moonglow in this trailer - click here. Time might be better spent listening to this recording of Tenderly, Autumn In New York and East Of The Sun played as a medley from the 1955 album Hamp and Getz - click here. (Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Shelly Manne, drums and Lou Levy, piano).

Although he was raised Roman Catholic (as a child he was out playing fife and drum at the Holy Rosary Academy near Chicago), during the 1950s Hamp developed a strong interest in Judaism. In 1953 he composed a King David Suite and performed it in Israel with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The score was believed totally lost in a fire in Hamp's apartment in 1997 - click here for the news item in the New York Times - click here for a video news broadcast on how the score was Lionel Hampton 1988later discovered.

Later in life Hampton became a Christian Scientist and he was also a Freemason in New York. He was a staunch Republican and became involved in the construction of various public housing projects, founding the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation.

As the 1960s and 1970s came, Hamp's style of music became less popular although he continued to record. In the 1980s, the University of Idaho recognised his contribution renaming their annual jazz festival (at which he had played) as the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, and then naming their school of music after him, the first university music school named for a jazz musician. Hamp had been suffering from arthritis for some time and after a three successive strokes in the 1990s was obliged to play less. He died in 2002 from congestive heart failure and at his funeral there was a performance by Wynton Marsalis and David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band; the procession began at The Cotton Club in Harlem. He has been inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Fortunately Lionel Hampton left a wealth of recordings and there are countless choices on YouTube, however our article ends with this film of extracts from the full Lionel Hampton Orchestra concert at the 1988 Newport Jazz Festival (45 minutes) - click here.


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