Lionel Hampton Orchestra – Swiss Radio Days: Basel 1953, Part 2 (2008)

NICK DERISO: Finding an impressive record by Lionel Hampton, known for both his harmonic and rhythmic sophistication, is easy.

Finding one that delights as much as its intrigues anymore, however, is rare.

His legacy, now more than ever, is secure: Born in Louisville, Ky., in 1908, Hamp would record hundreds of albums over six decades before his death at 94 in 2002. It’s said he first played the vibes, an amplified xylophone, with Louis Armstrong as early as 1930’s “Memories of You.” Now, Hampton wasn’t the first widely heard musician to take up the vibraphone — Red Norvo was doing that in the late 1920s — but the former drummer made it his own, using a varied, flamboyant range of attacks that produced this swinging groove never before heard on the instrument.

On stage, Hampton took it up a notch, switching from vibes to drums to two-fingered piano, delighting all. He was one of popular music’s first legitimate artists with superstar stage presence.

Later, after a move to California, Hamp’s hits included “On The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Flying Home” (most associated with his tenure in the Benny Goodman band, from 1936-40) and “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop.”

All, well documented. Even still, we find in these middle-period Swiss radio recordings, moments of pure transcendence.

Sure, by the 1950s, Hampton was nothing short of an ambassador for jazz, undertaking numerous “goodwill” tours to Europe, Japan, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. He was on TV as much as Carson. But he kept a Southern-influenced blues ear: Hampton had lived for a time in Alabama as a youngster with his grandmother, so he mixed in familiar reinterpretations of standards like “Moonglow’ and “Dinah” from the Goodman era with more soulful sides.

That shines through on “Kingfish/Drinking Wine,” a seven-minute groove.

You could also credit his eye for young talent. Hampton’s bands, over the years, featured Betty Carter, Arnett Cobb, Johnny Griffin, Charles Mingus, Milt Buckner, Wes Montgomery and Terence Blanchard, among others. He developed a lasting relationship with the University of Idaho, which even now trains aspiring young musicians at the Lionel Hampton School of Music.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that “Basel 1953″ captured trumpeter Clifford Brown in the months just before he emerged as a first-rate soloist with Max Roach. Also included on this Montreux Jazz Label release from last March are trombone great Jimmy Cleveland, saxist GiGi Grice, bass player Monk Montgomery (guitarist Wes’ brother) and Quincy Jones on both trump and piano, among others.

Grice’s “Brown Skin,” referred to a “Guice Suite” here, is a fast-forward composition of depth and maturity, with Brown as its signature orator. The tune, and this says as much about Hampton as it does Grice, could have fit into any modern jazz recording of the ensuring decades.

Throughout, Hamp is a hoot. You hear parts of Dexter Gordon’s “Setting the Pace,” for instance, during a run up to the by-then familiar turn on “Flying Home.” (I’d argue that this tune — embedded below — set an emotional tone that led to rock music, with its randy solo shouting by tenor man Illinois Jacquet.)

As always, you can almost see Hampton’s face, mouth agape, running through the changes.

That might get you to thinking he was simply an old-fashioned showman. Instead, Lionel Hampton’s willingness toward experimentation continued far past his hey day, and connected his music to the music’s next iterations — including later greats like Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Terry Gibbs.

You hear that on “Swiss Radio Days: Basel 1953, Part 2,” all over again. A terrific find.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    NICK, like one of your other co-conspirators — YOU’RE TOO HIP FOR THE ROOM!

    As I was reading your article on Hamp, I was gleefully rubbing my hands together — thinking a loud: He didn’t mention Clifford! Oh, boy. :) I’m gonna ge — OH ****!

    I first saw Lionel Hampton at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, 1949ish. They had what was called stage shows, where you watched the movie and then the lights came on and the curtains closed — you went did whatever you had to do and came back to your seat, as the house lights dimmed — then an off-stage voice very loudly announced: AND HERE IS THE LIONEL HAMPTON ORCHESTRA! Man, as the curtains were rising, you saw the 18-piece band on risers, all dressed alike and playing their asses off on some barn burner! It was beautiful! After a one-hour show with Lionel up front in an all-white suit playing drums — standing up, sitting down, on the side but ALWAYS IN THE POCKET! YEAH MAN! And for the last tune, I’d be “Flying Home,” triple forte — as loud and as hard as you can imagine.

    Just when you thought you had died and gone to heaven and it couldn’t get any better, it did! The cats all got up and started marching off the stage, playing all the time and marching up the aisles. At that point, the theater’s projectionist started showing P-51 Mustang Fighters coming right at you, with the sound full on up! The cats never stopped playing, and reformed back on the stage still blowing, with Lionel still keeping the beat. Every thing in the theater was vibrating and/or shaking. The Lionel, behind the drums, kicks the bass drum forward and jumps up on top of it and starts to dance and dance and dance. The trumpets are blowing up in the Maynard Ferguson part of the horn, ya dig?

    The curtain starts to come down as the band finishes on a resounding chord! The house lights come on and and every one — all 12 people — starts to get up and leave. It’s now 2 p.m., and Lionel and the guys will do 5 more shows that day.

    MORT WEISS

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Got me to thinking about Hamp. It was 1948ish, and Hamp and a group all stars were playing a concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California. (They had some great concerts there, way back in the day and they were all recorded — like Jackie, and Roy with Charlie Ventura, doing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” in a real bebop vocal syntax. Yeah!)

    Back to Hamp: If i had to pick one jazz solo to listen to forever, it would be his version of “Stardust,” recorded live at Pasadena. That’s the one where Hamp takes about 5,000 choruses, each one of them different. (If any one knows where I can get a CD. of same, please email me) There is another recording of “Stardust” done in studio — but it’s no where close.

    Nick, you probably know which one I’m describing. He brings every one back in with that loud percussive foot stomps! Oh, yeah! Terry G, loved the cat. He regaled me for hours about Hamp.

    WHERE HAVE ALL THE SAD YOUNG MEN GONE?
    MORT WEISS

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Re: All the sad young men: I had Shirley MacLaine check in with F. Scott Fitzgerald to see if he ever found out. The cat didn’t even remember writing it. Go figure.

    MORT