Saturday, April 19, 2008

If The Blues Was Whiskey, I'd Stay Drunk All The Time...

Sunday April 20th, it's not only Adolf Hitler's... also since 1908, it's been the late great Lionel Hampton's birthday... (he was a perhaps slightly less well known 1930's & 1940's era celeb.)

Not being the biggest fan of Hitler, a man who's recorded works are many but overall somewhat lacking in entertainment value, I guess I'll talk up Mr. Hampton the musician instead...

As a Los Angeles based drummer, Lionel Hampton had a cameo in the 1934 Bing Crosby film Pennies From Heaven alongside trumpeter Louis Armstrong.[citatation]. Hampton took immediately to Armstrong, driving him around, and the two worked up routines in their act where they marched off the bandstand with their instruments, and ended Hampton with sliding on his belly.

From an interview with "Hamp" quoted at Big Band

"Well, Louis was my idol. I met him, we were talking, then he said, 'Oh, I got to call a car so I can go to the city and go to work.' And I said, 'You don't need a car, you can use my car.' So I took him where he was going. yeah, we hit it off."

"Louis used to sing 'Rockin' Chair Got Me' and I'd be the old man in the rocking chair. 'Old rockin' chair's got you, father, cane by your side,' he'd sing to me, and I'd have on a duster coat, a false beard, an old straw hat and a cane-my props. Oh, boy! I thought I was something, doing that with Louis Armstrong!"

"Louis and I did an act on 'Hold That Tiger.' I'd go into the audience hollering through my snare drum: 'Oh! (Hold that tiger!), Oh! (Hold that tiger!).' And on the last one, when Louis hit that high C or F-which in those days, every trumpet player would try to hit, but Louis would hit it and hold it-I'd run from the audience and slide on my belly, with the snare drum on, across the dance floor, and hit the cymbal I'd set up with my bass drum on the floor. I'd hit my cymbal to cut off Louis' high note, and the band would cut off, too, and we never missed, we'd always hit it right on time. People got a big kick out of that. Yeah, Louis and I were tight."

It would not be as a drummer though that he would gain his fame, but as a vibraphonist...

Lionel Hampton played vibraphone publicly for the 1st time in a gig backing up Louis Armstrong, while a member of the Stan Hite orchestra, who'd all been hired in LA as a backing group by the famous New Orleans jazz man.

Armstrong was reputably Hampton's musical inspiration, but another man played a very important role, his next boss and musical collaborator...

After a stint attempting to lead his own group, Lionel eventually joined forces with famed clarinetist Benny Goodman. Hampton often credited Goodman with leading a wave of integration, giving breaks to "colored" musicians like Hamp in the days of deep seeded racist segregation.

Hampton was a dynamite performer as a drummer, also a respected pianist who could boogie woogie with the best of 'em, and also an occasional vocalist...

Here's Lionel Hampton on an old Victor disc in a rare spot of singing & of course playing his vibraphone in the Benny Goodman Quartet, a 1937 era combo ...

Lionel Hampton - Vibraphone Blues

"If The Blues Was Whiskey, I'd Stay Drunk All The Time..."

Here's Hampton backing up vocalist Johnny Hodges's reading of "Sunny Side of the Street"

Lionel Hampton ( w/ Johnny Hodges) - Sunnyside Of The Street

Hampton soon became very popular, not only as a member of Benny Goodman's band in the later 1930's, but beginning in 1940 and through the early 1950s , as a notable "big band" leader on his own. Hamp's orchestra's third recording in 1942 produced the classic version of "Flying Home", featuring a solo by Illinois Jacquet that helped pave the way for the music that eventually became popularly known as Rhythm & Blues.

Lionel Hampton - Flying Home

Over the years Lionel Hampton's big band had many notable players including composer and bassist Charles Mingus, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington and keyboardist Milt Buckner. Other musicians who got their start through Hampton's auspices or at least passed throug included trumpeters Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham and Snooky Young, pianist Art Farmer, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, sax men Earl Bostic & Jerome Richardson, and even the funky Pazant Brothers, not too mention vocalists Betty Carter, and Little Jimmy Scott.

While the big band years faded, Hampton's talents remained strong and he continued to record in smaller combos notably many sessions for Joel Dorn's Verve label, including those with Oscar Peterson, and a notable team up with Stan Getz in 1955.

Here's their intensely virtuosotic version of Jumpin at The Woodside captured at a scorching hot summer session taped in LA from the classic LP Hamp & Getz.

Hamp & Getz - Jumpin' At The Woodside
more tracks here:

Lionel Hampton & Stan Getz

Unlike the stereotypes you might have of many Jazz musicians, Hampton eschewed the norms, including bypassing the cigar chomping conventional management. He controlled more of his money by using his wife Gladys as his booking agent, forming the Glad-Hamp organization, which she ran until her death in 1971. Gladys had actually started off as a club dancer, and after catching each other's attentions with their talents, she bought Hamp his first set of vibes back in the LA days in the latter 1930's.Gladys & Lionel Hampton

Hamp became a staunch Republican, who did many fundraisers, and served as a delegate to several Republican National Conventions during his lifetime.

Not too mention his recording & releasing on his Glad-Hamp label this cheer for future pardoned Watergate co-conspirator Richard Nixon...

Lionel Hampton - We Need Nixon

He also served as Vice-Chairman of the New York Republican County Committee for some years, and was very interested in fundraising for Israel. After his death the Harlem Republican club renamed itself The Lionel Hampton Republican Club. Before his death the University of Idaho had named their annual Jazz Festival after him, as well as the school's jazz program.

Happy Birthday Lionel Hampton... rest in peace...

and I agree: If The Blues Was Whisky, I'd Stay Drunk All The Time...

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