Best Lionel Hampton Songs: 20 Must-Haves of Pioneer Jazz


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Lionel Hampton, whose career epitomized the swinging age of jazz, was a major figure in American music, not only as a flamboyant conductor and performing artist, but also as a pioneering figure in rock’n ‘roll. (His 1942 recording “Flying Home” featured a thrilling saxophone solo from Illinois Jacquet that set the tone for later rock records.) Hampton, who played piano and drums, also gave the vibraphone a place. lasting on the jazz kiosk after his departure. – breakup recordings with Louis Armstrong in 1930. In short, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Hampton, which is why the Grammys, in recognition of his enormous contribution to music, awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award to posthumously in April 2021.

Listen to the best songs of Lionel Hampton on Apple Music and Spotify.

Lionel Hampton, music pioneer

The rhythmically sophisticated performance of Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone influenced a generation of future musicians, including Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Hampton, born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 20, 1908, performed with Louis armstrong on several recordings in 1930. During a break in their session, the couple came across what Hampton later called a “vibraharp,” in a side room. Trumpeter Armstrong asked Hampton if he could play it. Hampton, who said he thought the keyboard was similar to that of a xylophone, which he had studied in Chicago, pulled the instrument into the studio, plugged it in, and played a solo he had memorized from Armstrong’s record “Cornet Chop Suey.” Armstrong was bowled over by the sound and asked Hampton to play the instrument on Eubia Blake’s song “Memories of You”. It was, according to most jazz historians, the first time that the vibraharp had been used on a major jazz recording.

Hampton’s melodic skills made him a sought-after session musician throughout his career. In 1936 he played in a magnificent quartet with clarinet maestro Benny Goodman, pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer. Gene Krupa. Together they created some of the classic recordings of the breakout swing era, and their band was a standout and pioneering example of racial mixing in an era of apartheid: no one had ever traveled with an integrated band before. “Hampton had an amazing sense of rhythm, and he transferred it to vibrations,” noted Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. “He could really swing, and that’s what captured Benny Goodman. Hampton had a great ear and knew how to improvise. Among the quartet’s wonderful recordings is a version of the jazz classic “Moonglow”.

Three years later, as the vibraphonist was traveling with Goodman’s band, Hampton was nervous about having to fly from Los Angeles to Atlantic City the first time he boarded a plane. He started to whistle a melody so as not to think about the next flight. When Goodman asked him what it was, Hampton replied, “I don’t know. We can call it “Flying Home” I guess. This swing hymn later became one of his main themes. During a frenzied performance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the trampling of the audience made the balcony crackle. Hampton’s feverish 1942 recording of “Flying Home” for Decca Records is considered a precursor to rock ‘n’ roll. The record also had a great influence on young musicians, including Ornette Coleman, who said it was his favorite song as a young jazz fan.

The inspiring conductor

“I cut my teeth writing arrangements for Lionel Hampton, and there was no better school in the world than the Lionel Hampton Orchestra,” said Quincy Jones, who first worked for Hampton at the age of 15. “Hamp was the accomplished jazz artist, he taught me how to groove,” added Jones, who particularly liked Hampton’s wonderful version of “September in the Rain”.

When Hampton started his own orchestra in 1940, it quickly became a traveling academy for some of the biggest jazz stars of the 20th century. The musicians that Hampton brought included trumpeter Clifford brown, saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and singers Dinah washington and Betty Carter. Hampton took the young singer Washington under her wing – persuading her to change her name to Ruth Jones – and their excellent work together was captured in a Carnegie Hall recording for Decca Records, including the track “Evil Gal Blues”. “Lionel Hampton taught me the value of the show. With his group, I learned what this business is all about, ”Washington said years later.

Another protege was the guitarist Wes montgomery, who recorded with Hampton on the 1949 song “New Central Avenue Breakdown”. At the time, the Hampton Orchestra was growing in popularity and its version of “Rag Mop” made its way into the Billboard Top 100 charts in February 1950. Milt Jackson said one of the main qualities of Hampton was the “inspiring way he performed in front of a band.” “He also knew how to choose the right sidemen, recording alongside saxophonists Stan getz and Coleman hawkins, pianist Chick Korea, and trumpeter Gillespie dizzy.

This trait of being able to identify the right musical partners continued throughout his career. In October 1964, he recorded the album You better know that !!! for the Prestige / Impulse label. It starred Ben Webster on tenor saxophone and included a scintillating version of Duke Ellington’s “Ring Dem Bells”, a song that showcased Hampton’s singing and scattering skills. Hampton’s contribution to music was later recognized by the University of Idaho, whose music school is named after the master vibes, the first college music school to honor a jazz musician in this manner.

A talented composer

Lionel Hampton learned rhythm and composition theory when growing up in Chicago in the 1920s, developing harmonic scales and extensions that would be a key part of his songwriting work in the following years. Among his most beautiful compositions are “Red Top” – co-written with Ben Kynard – a superb cover of which appears on Erroll Garner’s Concert by the sea. Another Hampton classic is “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie”, which he composed with famous bassist Ray Brown and pianist Oscar Peterson.

Hampton, guided by his astute partner and wife Gladys, was smart in his choice of high-impact arrangements, music loaded with brass and blues solos. The energetic songs satisfied the thirst for entertainment of a post-war audience. His catchy song “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop ”, released in January 1946 and starring Herbie Fields on alto saxophone, remained number 1 on the R&B JukeBox chart for 16 weeks. Other memorable Hampton compositions include “Midnight Sun” – a favorite of the great organ Jimmy Smith – and his four-part symphonic jazz work “King David Suite”, inspired by a visit to Israel. A film was made on his performance of the suite with the St. Petersburg State Orchestra.

The charismatic artist

Lionel Hampton’s vibrant personality made him a natural fit for Hollywood and the musician has appeared in seven major films, including Pennies from the sky alongside Bing Crosby. He also appeared with Little Richard in the 1957 photo Mr. Rock and Roll. Famous jazz drummer Roy Brooks, who saw Hampton in concert in 1938, described the star in action. “He is perhaps the only drummer I have seen dancing on a drum…. He would jig on a tom-tom drum, sometimes he would fall through and jump. He was really something.

Hampton mocked the criticism of his act, saying his antics were ultimately imitated. “They used to say, ‘This is the circus.’ And now everyone is doing it. All this jive came from us, ”he said DownBeat reviewed in the 1970s. He was a born showman, whether on signature tracks such as “Jivin ‘the Vibes” or with his memorable solo improvisations on the ballad “Stardust”. Hampton could bring his own personality to any song he sang, including his 1955 recording at the Schola Cantorum, Paris, for his album. Lionel Hampton and his new French sound Vol. 1. The album includes a sweet version of “Crazy Rhythm”, featuring famous singer Sacha Distel on guitar.

Hampton was versatile as well, and his excellent drumming underpinned “Chasin ‘with Chase”. He loved to use chopsticks and once said, “It seemed to me that playing the drum was the best way to get closer to God. His frenzied stage character – with a broad smile as mallets flew and sweat poured down his brow – was still evident when I saw him perform in London in 1979, even though he was 70 at the time. A highlight was the song on which he played a frenzied piano solo using just two fingers. Hampton continued to play until his death at age 94 on August 31, 2002.

Lionel Hampton, an imaginative performer of classical songs

Lionel Hampton’s melodic and harmonic imagination was extraordinary, allowing him to bring his own fresh interpretations to over twenty jazz classics, including “Dinah”, “How High the Moon” and “Honeysuckle Rose”. One of his most haunting interpretations is “I cover the waterfront”. Hampton performed on a version of the song in the 1940s, when his orchestra accompanied Billie Holiday at the Majestic Theater in New York City. It was a track Hampton returned to over and over again, including a striking version for Decca Records.

Hampton made his mark at a time when prejudice was a major obstacle for black musicians in American life. Even at the height of his glory a porter told him The Ed Sullivan Show enter with the lights dimmed so that white audiences are not “offended” when they see black people in the audience. At the end of his life, Hampton told young black musicians about his difficulties touring the south in the 1930s with Goodman’s band. He was proud to have taken his music on tour in Africa and was delighted to perform alongside President Clinton in a 1997 special concert where Hampton was awarded the National Medal of Arts. “I want to be remembered for spreading happiness and goodwill,” he said.

Think we missed one of Lionel Hampton’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.

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