Had it not been for the encouragement of a Dominican nun, jazz great Lionel Hampton may never have picked up a drumstick. He died today in 2002. Praise be.
Death of vibraphone (aka vibraharp) genius Lionel Hampton at the age of 94. Playing with Louis Armstrong and Bennie Goodman before fronting his own successful orchestra, “Hamp” was almost single-handedly responsible for popularising the vibes as a jazz instrument.
Playing the drums in a marching band while at school in Chicago, Hampton befriended band leader Les Hite and after a spell playing in Los Angeles joined Hite’s Cotton Club Orchestra. That gig included backing Louis Armstrong in 1930, during which time he first tried his hand at the vibraphone (having earlier dabbled withe the xylophone).
Making an impact (quite literally) on jazz circles, Lionel branched out into singing and playing piano when leading his own big band, also joining Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Teddy Wilson in Goodmans’ Quartet – often expanded to include guitarist Charlie Christian and the first racially integrated “all star” jazz ensemble were responsible for some landmark recordings and radio broadcasts.
Signing to RCA Records as a solo artist, Hampton recorded with a small group then separated from Goodman in 1940 to front what fellow bandleader Artie Shaw called “a big, knock-down, drag-out, fat-chewing band – bang, bang, bang–it sure gave people what they wanted.” Becoming famed for wild live shows that prompted frantic Lindy Hopping from the audience (memorably recreated in the 1992 movie “Malcolm X”), Hamps band scored a massive hit in 1942 with “Flying Home”.
Teenage tenor sax player Illinois Jacquet starred on what is regarded as the definitive version of Hamp’s theme tune – and a cornerstone in the development of rhythm and blues music. And over the following years Hampton’s band was a who’s who of jazz greats, with the likes of Clifford Brown, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus and Wes Montgomery all serving time as sidemen.
Mixing swing with R’n'B kept Hampton’s band working and he also tipped a hat to be-bop, recording “Hot Mallets” with Dizzy Gillespie. A veteran of sessions alongside a succession of jazz greats including Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum an Stan Gezt, Hamp continued to lead his band across the globe over the following decades. Despite suffering two strokes during the 1990s, he continued to perform and jammed with President Clinton at the White House on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Check out and purchase Lionel Hampton CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of Hamp in action: