Lionel Hampton - vibes; Billy Mackel - guitar; Milt Buckner - organ; Joe Newman - trumpet; Eddie Williams - trumpet; Cat Anderson - trumpet; Illinois Jacquet - tenor sax, soprano sax; Dexter Gordon - tenor sax; Kai Winding - trombone; Garnett Brown - trombone; Curtis Fuller - trombone; Richard Davis - bass; Bernard Purdie - drums; Dennis Monez - conga; Special guests: Teddy Wilson - piano; Gene Krupa - drums; Roy Eldridge - trumpet
One of the most exuberant showmen in the history of jazz, vibraphonist-drummer-bandleader Lionel Hampton always brought an unparalleled level of enthusiasm to the bandstand. A Swing era star who came up with the Benny Goodman quartet and orchestra before forming his own popular big band, Hampton was famous for his rocking 1942 hit "Flying Home," which paved the way for rhythm & blues and early rock & roll. Thirty years later, he was still bringing that same kind of exuberant energy to his performances, like this one at Philharmonic Hall for the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival in New York.
Hampton's 13-piece ensemble comes out with a funky, Latin-tinged minor key boogaloo, which gives each of the horn players a solo taste. His long-time guitarist Bill Mackel, who had been with the charismatic bandleader since 1944, contributes a distinctive solo here, as does veteran organist. Turning reflective, Hampton next delivers an intimate rendition of Paul McCartney's gorgeous ballad "Yesterday" accompanied only by bassist Richard Davis, guitarist Billy Mackel, and organist Milt Buckner, along with drummer Bernard Purdie providing some sensitive brushwork. The irrepressible Hamp does manage to imbue his version of this Beatles classic with a bevy of uncharacteristic blue notes on his extended vibes solo.
Organ pioneer Buckner is prominently featured on an ebullient romp through the 1930 Tin Pan Alley ditty "On the Sunny Side of the Street," which is beautifully underscored by Davis' steadily walking basslines. Hamp joins in on ebullient vocals midway through the upbeat piece. On the outro, guitarist Mackel and the rest of the band incorporate Hampton's famous riff from his 1946 hit "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" into the fabric of this engaging number. Buckner then stretches out on organ for a reprise of "On the Sunny Side of the Street."
Hamp's vibes glisten over a stirring, slow rendition of the Latin flavored ballad "Cool Autumn Breeze" before the ensemble shifts gears and jumps into an exhilarating big band arrangement of "How High the Moon," a crowd-pleasing swinger that has the leader stretching out with typical verve on his vibes solo. Buckner is next featured on an infectious shuffle blues jam that segues to the Benny Goodman number "Till Tom Special," which Hampton had recorded as a member of the Goodman Sextet (with guitarist Charlie Christian) in 1940. The band then slyly shifts into the Band of Gypsys' "Them Changes," a funky number written by drummer Buddy Miles and associated with Jimi Hendrix. Saxophonist Illinois Jacquet stretches out on a soprano solo here while former Duke Ellington trumpeter Cat Anderson follows with some high-note heat of his own. Tenor sax great Dexter Gordon also turns in a potent solo, and guitarist Mackel follows with an invigorating solo that alludes more to B.B. King than Jimi Hendrix. Bassist Davis and drummer Purdie also turn in superb solos on this lengthy jam.
At this point in the proceedings, Hampton tells the audience, "Don't worry about a thing, Daddy. We just warming up now." And with that he introduces special guests Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums, his bandmates in the Benny Goodman Quartet of the 1930s. They turn in a beautiful rendition of "Avalon" (a tune the three colleagues had recorded together in 1937 with Benny Goodman). The crowd responds favorably to Wilson's ebullient piano solo before Hamp and Krupa engage in some animated exchanges on this Swing era staple. Wilson is prominently featured on the following number, stretching out in exquisite fashion with his dazzling two-handed technique on the keyboard with Krupa supporting with brisk brushwork.
Trumpeter Roy Eldridge is next introduced as a special guest and "Little Jazz" proceeds to delight the crowd with a soulful balladic reading of "The Man I Love," a torch song long associated with Billie Holiday. Hamp then leads the crew through a variation on the age-old jamming vehicle "I Got Rhythm" that features animated solos from pianist Wilson and the vibist-bandleader himself, who engages in some slick trading of eights with drummer Krupa. High-note trumpet specialist Anderson also turns in a bristling solo here.
Following an intermission, Hampton introduces saxophonist Gordon, who flew in from Denmark for this gig. Dex provides some sparks on a heated arrangement of Ray Noble's "Cherokee." Organist Milt Buckner is next featured on the buoyant midtempo swinger "Robin's Nest." The lively jump blues number "Hamp's Tones" features potent solos from Buckner, trombonist Kai Winding and trumpeter Cat Anderson while "Africa Now" features the vibraphonist in a more reflective mood. Tenor titan Jacquet is also featured here on oboe, one of the rare doubles in the history of jazz. Krupa and Teddy Wilson return to the stage for an exuberant rendition of "Sing, Sing, Sing," the tune they famously recorded with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1938. Krupa nearly steals the show with his energetic drumming on this bombastic set-closer.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 20, 1908, Hampton spent his early childhood in Kenosha, Wisconsin before his family moved to Chicago when he was eight years old. He took xylophone lessons as a teenager and also played drums. After moving to California in 1927, he began playing drums for the Dixieland Blues-Blowers and later joined the Les Hite band at Sebastian's Cotton Club, where he began focusing on vibraphone. In 1930, Louis Armstrong hired the Les Hite band for a recording session and Hampton was featured playing vibes on two songs, becoming the first jazz musician to record on that instrument. He later studied music at the University of Southern California and formed his own orchestra in 1934. In 1936, Hampton was hired by Benny Goodman as the fourth member of his quartet, which had previously been a trio with drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson. He continued to perform and record with Goodman through 1940, when he formed his own big band, scoring hits with "Flying Home" in 1944 and the proto-rocker "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" in 1946. A veritable Who's Who in Jazz passed through the ranks of Hampton's bands through the '50s and '60s, including bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalists Dinah Washington and Betty Carter, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham and Snooky Young, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Jerome Richardson. A relentless road warrior, Hampton continued touring the world with his band through the '70s and '80s, eventually sidelined by a stroke in 1991. He died from congestive heart failure on August 31, 2002 in New York City.
-Written by Bill Milkowski