WMKY

Lionel Hampton: 1930's-1940's

Apr 23, 2021

Lionel Hampton
Credit Lakeshore Public Radio

Sunday Night Jazz Showcase

Program #324 (April 25 at 8:00pm)

Lionel Hampton was the first jazz vibraphonist and was one of the jazz giants beginning in the mid-'30s. He has achieved the difficult feat of being musically open-minded (even recording "Giant Steps") without changing his basic swing style.

Hamp started out as a drummer, playing with the Chicago Defender Newsboys' Band as a youth. His original idol was Jimmy Bertrand, a '20s drummer who occasionally played xylophone. Hampton played on the West Coast with such groups as Curtis Mosby's Blue Blowers, Reb Spikes, and Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders (with whom he made his recording debut in 1929) before joining Les Hite's band, which for a period accompanied Louis Armstrong.

At a recording session in 1930, a vibraphone happened to be in the studio, and Armstrong asked Hampton (who had practiced on one previously) if he could play a little bit behind him and on "Memories of You" and "Shine"; Hamp became the first jazz improviser to record on vibes.

It would be another six years before he found fame. Lionel Hampton, after leaving Hite, had his own band in Los Angeles' Paradise Cafe, until one night in 1936 when Benny Goodman came into the club and discovered him. Soon, Hampton recorded with B.G., Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa as the Benny Goodman Quartet, and six weeks later he officially joined Goodman.

An exciting soloist whose enthusiasm even caused B.G. to smile, Hampton became one of the stars of his organization, appearing in films with Goodman, at the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and nightly on the radio. In 1937, he started recording regularly as a leader for Victor with specially assembled all-star groups that formed a who's who of swing; all of these timeless performances (1937-1941) were reissued by Bluebird on a six-LP set, although in piecemeal fashion on CD.

Hampton stayed with Goodman until 1940, sometimes substituting on drums and taking vocals. In 1940, Lionel Hampton formed his first big band, and in 1942 had a huge hit with "Flying Home," featuring a classic Illinois Jacquet tenor spot (one of the first R&B solos).

During the remainder of the 1940's, Hampton's extroverted orchestra was a big favorite, leaning toward R&B, showing the influence of bebop after 1944, and sometimes getting pretty exhibitionistic. Among his sidemen, in addition to Jacquet, were Arnett Cobb, Dinah Washington (who Hampton helped discover), Cat Anderson, Marshall Royal, Dexter Gordon, Milt Buckner, Earl Bostic, Snooky Young, Johnny Griffin, Joe Wilder, Benny Bailey, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Al Gray, and even Wes Montgomery and Betty Carter.

(provided by Allmusic)