Lionel Hampton: an abiding inspiration /2

A selective tour of the Hamp discography, bringing to life, blow by blow, some of the vibraphonist's greatest moments on record. Part 2

Later in 1955, with Hampton spending some time in Los Angeles, Clef recorded another small group under the not-entirely-unreasonable title of Lionel Hampton And His Giants. Six tracks were issued on a Columbia Clef Series LP, the cover of which dated the session to July, although 7 September seems to be correct. The said giants were pianist Art Tatum, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, bassist red Callender and drummer Buddy Rich, with guitarist Barney Kessel added on three tracks (Plaid, Somebody Loves Me and Deep Purple), and John Simmons replacing Callender on Somebody, Purple and Verve Blues. The session also included a short version of September Song for release on a 78 single, plus What Is This Thing Called Love.

Now, cut off my head and call me cloth-eared, but I don’t share the general worship of Tatum. He was an amazing pianist but, in my view, not always a great musician, using too many notes

Edison is typically suave, creating stylish lines but occasionally piercing the elegance with climactic high-note flourishes. Now, cut off my head and call me cloth-eared, but I don’t share the general worship of Tatum. He was an amazing pianist but, in my view, not always a great musician, using too many notes (as Emperor Joseph II is supposed to have said to Mozart) and, when playing with others, often getting in the way: here, there are spots where only the sound balance stops him getting tangled with the vibes’ lines. However, as Verve Blues shows, he is a surprisingly good funky blues player, albeit still with a tendency to be too busy. On Plaid he anticipates Somebody, the next track they would cut, by quoting the title line. Hamp, of course, toys and teases with quotes throughout with consummate skill.

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In that same Jazz In Paris series mentioned in part one of this article, Ring Dem Bells (Gitanes 159-825) dates from 21 years later, 25 May 1976. This time we get to hear Hamp sing (or maybe chant, the French word being more accurate for Hamp’s vocalisations) on the title track, On The Sunny Side Of The Street and Vibraphone Blues. The other tracks are Seven Come Eleven (a tune that cropped up in quotes on the 1955 session), Blue Lou, Psychedelic Sally and Hamp’s Thing. Much as I enjoy those 1955 performances and their many good points, I have to admit that this session is superior, not least thanks to a significantly more accomplished rhythm section of Raymond Fol (piano), Michel Gaudry (bass), William Mackie (guitar) and Sam Woodyard (drums) with Reynold Mullins on organ or piano on some tracks. The horn players, Michel Attenoux (alto sax), Claude Goussett (trombone) and Gerard Badini (tenor sax), are more challenging too. This time the weight of responsibility doesn’t hang so heavily on Hamp’s shoulders and le tout ensemble demonstrates well-justified confidence as well as enthusiasm.

Just a few weeks before that Ally Pally gig, on 20th May, Lionel Hampton and His Giants of Jazz 1979 recorded Hamp In Haarlem in concert in Holland. On this tour the personnel seemed to change regularly. Here Hamp fielded Joe Newman and Wallace Davenport (t), Curtis Fuller (t), Steve Slagle (as), Paul Moen (ts), Paul Jeffrey (bar), Wild Bill Davis (org, p), Gary Mazzaroppi (b) and Richie Pratt (d). The following day, for a concert at the Düsseldorf Tonhalle celebrating Hamp’s 50th anniversary in the business, René McLean replaced Slagle and Charles Sullivan replaced Davenport. At Ally Pally further changes had occurred, with McLean unable to take part.

Hamp In Haarlem opens with Glad Hamp, the leader blowing the gaff on yet another child of I Got Rhythm, before athletic, scorching solos by Slagle and Davenport set things up for a typically amiable Hampton vocal, all punctuated by powerhouse ensembles. Hamp continues to give the Gershwin Rhythm game away with a band chorus of Moose The Mooche. Ol’ Man River, featuring Hampton and a subtle backdrop from Davis, flows from a relaxed exposition of the tune, heavy on vibrato and rich lower-register notes, until a sudden, arguably predictable but nonetheless exciting pitch into a fast tempo, booted along by Mazzaroppi. Greasy Greens gets a funk treatment with some spicy brass ‘n’ reed riffs.

Hamp encourages the audience to congratulate itself and introduces an insouciantly virtuosic solo by Davenport, then rocks in himself with a delicious piece of laid-back soulfulness. Mr. P.C., John Coltrane’s tribute to Paul Chambers, gets a bustling arrangement, Hamp coming in first with some nifty phrasing that gets the beat floating without losing momentum. On Hamp’s Got The Blues the band members are introduced individually against a steadily intensifying ensemble. The album ends with the (to me, anyway) enigmatically titled Salsa, Ein Burgermeister De Francoise which includes an uncredited flute that I assume is played by Slagle. Hamp again demonstrates that he can phrase subtly as well as dig deep into a straight-ahead groove.

I’ve been envisioning a mythical creature that didn’t like Lionel Hampton. It would be impervious to the infectious swing of the punchy ensembles, the driving, witty solos, the good-humoured mischievousness of the whole joyous shtick

I’ve been envisioning a mythical creature that didn’t like Lionel Hampton. It would be impervious to the infectious swing of the punchy ensembles, the driving, witty solos, the good-humoured mischievousness of the whole joyous shtick. Regardless of the vaudevillian idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes of style and presentation, Hamp was one of the greats: the crucial point is that he was in control of   the mannerisms, not in their grip. 

Notwithstanding his 71 years, the energy and zest was still with him at that Ally Pally gig, and for years to come, until a stroke in 1991 forced him to cut back. His legacy extends beyond music: he was deeply involved in the construction of various public-housing projects and founded the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation. Construction began with the Lionel Hampton Houses in  Harlem, New York in the 1960s, with the help of the then governor, Nelson Rockefeller.

Discographical footnote and selective additional recommendations

It never ceases to surprise me what you can find online these days, so even where some of the recordings I have referred to are not available on CD or vinyl it may be possible to hear them, and with international vendors also online even albums not released in your home market may be purchasable. Best of all is if you are lucky enough to have an accessible specialist dealer who can supply what you are looking for, either new or “pre-loved”. Anyway, to the best of my knowledge the following recordings are available:

The Pasadena version of Stardust is available in various places but if you want to pig out on 91 additional tracks covering 1937 to 1949 I’d recommend The Lionel Hampton Story (Properbox 12).

Hamp In Haarlem is available on Dutch label Timeless (CDSJP 133).

Performances from some of the 1953 and 1954 European tours are collected on the French label Fremeaux & Associes’ two-CD set FA 5240 as The Lionel Hampton Big Band: The European Concerts 1953-54. I’d also recommend Lionel Hampton And His All-Stars: The Complete Jazztone Recordings (Fresh Sound FSR-CD 446). For these mid-1956 tracks he led a septet consisting of Ray Copeland, Jimmy Cleveland, Lucky Thompson, Oscar Dennard, Oscar Pettiford and Gus Johnson. I’ve omitted describing those in this article only because of wordage considerations.

See part 1 of Lionel Hampton: an abiding inspiration

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