Ever since I began doing these more-or-less weekly meanderings in July of 2011, the one person I’ve most looked forward to writing about is Lionel Hampton. There is little that can be said about Hamp that hasn’t already been said by others. But if I didn’t at least try, there wouldn’t be much point in these articles, would there? 😉
Hamp was one of the most consistently popular artists ever to grace a jazz stage. Others felt it necessary to create “music” that sounded, at best, like what you would hear if a roomful of instruments had been thrown down an elevator shaft and bounced off the walls as they fell. Hamp played music that not only was accessible, it was energetic and downright fun to listen to.
Hamp’s popularity held steady from the 1930’s right up until his death at age 94 in August of 2002. Only a handful of musicians can boast a career that lasted longer. He was also one of the genre’s most prolific recording artists, with scores of albums to his credit, both under his own name and as a sideman.
A partial listing of the artists Hamp played with reads like a Who’s Who of jazz: Les Hite, Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, and many others.
My choice of which Lionel Hampton album to write about for this week’s article will be no surprise to those of you who were regular listeners to my late, lamented radio show, Saturday Night Jazz. The album has had at least two titles over the years. When it was originally released on the impulse! Label in 1978 it was called simply “Live”. In 2001, the Timeless label re-released it as “Live At The Muzeval”. The set list is the same on both releases.
I will tell you right now that yes, this is the album that closes with the version of “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie” that I used as the closing theme for “Saturday Night Jazz” for the last several years of the program’s life. But more about that below.
First, let’s take a look at the personnel:
Lionel Hampton, vibraphone
Will Bill Davis, organ/piano
Joe Newman, trumpet
Victor Paz, trumpet
Paul Moen, tenor sax
Eddie Chamblee, alto sax
Billy Mackel, guitar
Barry Smith, bass
Frankie Dunlop, drums
This concert was recorded live at The Muzeval in The Netherlands on May 13, 1978. Even a cursory listening reveals that both band and audience enjoyed themselves immensely. This is an album you will want to dig out your headphones for, because you are going to want to crank the volume UP!
The excitement begins with the first track, and we get barely ten seconds into the intro before the audience begins the first of several episodes of going mildly crazy with pleasure as they realize what is coming. In this case it’s “Airmail Special”, one of the most popular songs Hamp ever performed, and this audience eats it up.
Track two is the somewhat more mellow “Big Bad Henry”, during which the rhythm section still manages to burn like a low ember. The horns get a workout toward the end, and once again the audience responds warmly.
John Coltrane’s “Moments Notice” is next, and what a corker it is! Dunlop’s drums start it off, joined almost immediately by the horns. Before you know it everyone has joined in. The audience loves Moen’s great tenor solo, and then it’s Hamp’s turn. Hamp was known as much for his creative moaning as he was for his mastery of the vibraphone, and this is not the only song on this disk where both skills are very much in play as the piece plays out.
The Joe Henderson song “No Me Esqueca” is next. I’d never heard of this piece, and a quick search on the internet seems to indicate this was the only recording of it. This group’s rendition has all the power and drive you would expect from a nonet of this caliber.
“Giant Steps”, the album’s second Coltrane composition, follows. Moen definitely had a wonderful way with his tenor sax, and I can’t help thinking what a shame it is that he wasn’t more widely known.
Track seven is the classic “Flying Home”, which was for years Hamp’s most popular composition and his theme song. At seven and a half minutes it is by far the longest piece on the disk, yet it seems almost no time at all before it’s over. I must admit, Hamp’s moaning at time sounds almost like he’s trying to pass a bowling ball, but “Flying Home” is a great song and this is definitely a great rendition of it, bowling ball or no bowling ball.
Despite my pleasure from the rest of the album, the final track is the sole reason why this disk is in my music collection. It is, simply put, the best version of “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie” that I have heard, and I’ve heard plenty of versions of it!
More than just the simple 12-bar progression that it appears to be, “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie” gives the guys in the band a chance to really cut lose. They obviously enjoyed playing this song as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it, and they pulled out all the stops. The result is everyone had a good time and left the audience clapping and chanting “We want more! We want more! We want more” as the track fades out.
The following version of “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie”, credited as “Hamp’s Boogie”, is from the 1988 Newport Jazz Festival. I don’t believe it’s as good as the version on the album we’ve been discussing, but it will give you a good idea what I’m talking about.
Lionel Hampton and His Band’s “Live” (or “Live At The Muzeval”, depending on which release you find) is among my top five favorite jazz albums of all time. It is out of print now, but if you can locate a copy I’m certain that you’ll find that it an excellent addition to your own personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To find out more about Lionel Hampton and his music, visit this memorial web sitehosted by the University of Idaho, home of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Speaking of which, information about the festival, including this year’s lineup (February 22-25, 2012), can be found here.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
My original content, including photos other than album covers, Copyright © 2012 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.