Lionel Hampton Biography

American jazz composer, singer, vibraphonist, drummer, and pianist
One of the first jazz vibraphonists, Hampton was prominently featured in Benny Goodman’s quartet, one of the first mainstream musical groups to be racially integrated. He also led a long-lived and popular post-swing-era big band.

Born: April 20, 1908; Louisville, Kentucky
Died: August 31, 2002; New York, New York
Also known as: Lionel Leo Hampton (full name)
Principal recordings
albums: The Original Stardust, 1947; Moonglow, 1950; The Blues Ain’t News to Me, 1951; Crazy Hamp, 1953; Hamp!, 1953; Hamp in Paris, 1953; Jazztime Paris, 1953; The King of the Vibes, 1953; Lionel Hampton in Paris, 1953; The Lionel Hampton Quartet, 1953; Rockin’ and Groovin’, 1953; Flyin’ Home, 1954; Hallelujah Hamp, 1954; Hamp’s Big Four, 1954; The High and the Mighty, 1954; Hot Mallets, 1954; Lionel Hampton, 1954; Lionel Hampton Plays Love Songs, 1954; The One and Only Lionel Hampton, 1954; Swingin’ with Hamp, 1954; Crazy Rhythm, 1955; G. Krupa- L. Hampton-T. Wilson, 1955 (with Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson); The Genius of Lionel Hampton, 1955; Hamp and Getz, 1955 (with Stan Getz); Hamp Roars Again, 1955; The Hampton- Tatum-Rich Trio, 1955 (with Art Tatum and Buddy Rich); Jam Session in Paris, 1955; Jazz in Paris: Lionel Hampton and His New French Sound, 1955; Lionel Hampton and His Giants, 1955; Lionel Hampton Big Band, 1955; Tatum-Hampton- Rich . . . Again, 1955 (with Tatum and Rich); Travelin’ Band, 1955; Hamp in Hi Fi, 1956; Jazz Flamenco, 1956; Lionel Hampton Swings, 1956; Lionel Hampton’s Jazz Giants, 1956; Look!, 1956; Paris Session 1956, 1956; Golden Vibes, 1958; Lionel . . . Plays Drums, Vibes, Piano, 1958; The Many Sides of Lionel Hampton, 1958; Hamp’s Big Band, 1959; Silver Vibes, 1960; All That Twistin’ Jazz, 1961; The Exciting Hamp in Europe, 1961; Soft Vibes, Soaring Strings, 1961; Many Splendored Vibes, 1962; Bossa Nova Jazz, 1963; The Great Hamp and Little T, 1963 (with Charlie Teagarden); Lionel Hampton in Japan, 1963; A Taste of Hamp, 1964; You Better Know It, 1964; Hamp Stamps, 1967; Newport Uproar, 1967; Steppin’ Out, Vol. 1, 1969; Where Could I Be?, 1971; Please Sunrise, 1973; Stop! I Don’t Need No Sympathy, 1974; Transition, 1974; Blackout, 1977; Blues in Toulouse, 1977; Giants of Jazz, Vol. 1, 1977; Jazzmaster, 1977; Lionel Hampton and His Jazz Giants ’77, 1977; Lionel Hampton Presents Buddy Rich, 1977 (with Rich); Lionel Hampton Presents Gerry Mulligan, 1977 (with Gerry Mulligan); Who’s Who in Jazz Presents Lionel Hampton, 1977; Alive and Jumping, 1978; As Time Goes By, 1978; Hamp in Haarlem, 1979; Made in Japan, 1982; Air Mail Special, 1983; Sentimental Journey, 1985; Cookin’ in the Kitchen, 1988; Mostly Blues, 1988; Mostly Ballads, 1989; For the Love of Music, 1994; Lionel Hampton and His Jazz Giants, 1994; My Man, 1994; Rhythm Rhythm, 1994; Fun, 1995; Hamp’s Boogie Woogie, 1995; Old Fashioned Swing, 1995; All Star Jazz Sessions, Vol. 2, 1996; Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra in Europe, 1996; Just One of Those Things, 1999; Jazz Gallery: Lionel Hampton, Vol. 2, 2000; Lionel Hampton Jazz Showcase, 2000; Open House: All- Star Session, Vol. 1, 2000; Outrageous, 2000; Ring Dem Vibes, 2001.

singles: “Drum Stomp,” 1937; “Down Home Jump,” 1938; “Flying Home,” 1942; “Hamp’s Boogie Woogie,” 1944; “Midnight Sun,” 1947; “Mingus Fingers,” 1947; “I Only Have Eyes for You,” 1953; “Real Crazy,” 1953. 573 Musicians and Composers of the 20th Century Hampton, Lionel writings of interest: Method for Vibraharp, Xylophone, and Marimba (1967); The New Lionel Hampton Vibraphone Method (1981); Hamp: An Autobiography (1989).

The Life
Lionel Leo Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and he was raised in Chicago by his mother after his father disappeared inWorld War I. As a youth, he played drums in the Chicago Defender Boys’ Band, a band organized by the black newspaper that carried many jazz features. In 1928, after graduating from high school, Hampton moved to Los Angeles, where he played with several West Coast bands, including Les Hite’s group. This group was hired as a backing band for Louis Armstrong’s recordings in 1930 at NBC Studios. During one of these recording dates, Armstrong encouraged Hampton to take up the vibraphone, a relatively new instrument and one scarcely heard in the jazz world at that point.

Hampton took Armstrong’s recommendation seriously, and he began performing on the vibraphone during those same recording sessions. Although he had some limited piano training, including a few lessons from Jelly Roll Morton, Hampton transferred easily to the vibraphone.

Hampton continued to perform in California through the mid-1930’s, taking time to study music at the University of Southern California. He formed a nine-piece combo that played at the Paradise Club in Los Angeles, and it was this group that Columbia Records producer John Hammond heard one evening in 1936. The following night, Hammond returned with Benny Goodman, who was so impressed by Hampton’s playing that he jumped on stage to play along. The next morning, Goodman brought Hampton to a recording studio, and along with Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson, they recorded several pieces. Three weeks later, Goodman invited Hampton to join his band.

Hampton played with the Goodman band from 1936 to 1940. He was the second African American to join the group (the pianist Teddy Wilson was the first), though both he and Wilson performed exclusively in the small groups with Goodman and Krupa. Goodman encouraged Hampton to make his own recordings, and the vibraphonist organized a series of recordings with various sidemen for Victor between 1937 and 1940. Hampton participated in Goodman’s landmark Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, performing several pieces with the quartet. The quartet performances were widely regarded as highlights of the concert. Shortly after this performance, several of Goodman’s stars departed, including Krupa. Hampton briefly replaced Krupa on drums, becoming the first musician to break the color barrier in big band jazz. In 1940 Goodman briefly dissolved his group, and Hampton took the opportunity to formhisown band. He began with several musicians that had recorded with him at his last Victor session, including Marshal Royal, Karl George, Ray Perry (on saxophone and violin), and Irving Ashby. He also hired several jazz stars, such as Dexter Gordon on tenor and Milt Buckner on piano, who is credited with inventing the locked-hands (block chord) style that became popular during the bebop era. At first, Hampton and his band were not successful, especially since the first tour took them through the South. Once they reached New York, however, audiences were more receptive. Few other big bands enjoyed the remarkable success Hampton’s band did when the swing era ended. Part of his success came from Hampton’s embracing of musical styles other than swing, ranging from early rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie to bebop and modern jazz. Even though the band was long-lived, lasting in various forms through the 1990’s, Hampton had only a single hit: 1942’s “Flying Home.”

The Lionel Hampton Orchestra performed at many important events, including the inaugural balls of two presidents (Harry Truman’s ball in 1949 and Dwight Eisenhower’s ball in 1953). By 1953 Hampton had earned nearly one million dollars, and he playedmore than two hundred engagements a year, including a tour of Europe.Heaccomplished this success in spite of the fact that the band never held a long-term engagement (such as a hotel residency, the usual mark of success for a band) and had only one hit. In the 1970’s, while continuing to lead his big band, Hampton formed a smaller band called Jazz Inner Circle. He toured with his groups into the 1990’s. He authored several books, including Method for Vibraharp, Xylophone, and Marimba, The New Lionel Hampton Vibraphone Method, and an autobiography called Hamp: An Autobiography. In his private life, Hampton was quiet and contemplative. He met Gladys Neal, a dressmaker, in 1929, and he married her in 1936. Their marriage lasted until Gladys’s death thirty-four years later. The couple was active in politics, in the Civil Rights movement, and in supporting humanitarian causes. Hampton was a devout Christian, and he composed a religious piece called King David Suite based on his experiences traveling in Israel in 1956. He died of heart failure in 2002.

The Music
Hampton’s appeal stemmed from his rambunctious energy, and many of his solos, which often lasted many choruses, were accented with his enthusiastic grunting. This energy had a strong effect on the musicians around him. Even after swing fell out of favor, Hampton and his band members stayed successful because they were masterful entertainers. Hampton was a technical master at the vibraphone, though his energy sometimes clouded his musical ideas. Harmonically, he generally stayed within the confines of standard swing-era progressions.

Hampton also made recordings, to varying degrees of success, that featured his piano playing, hisdrumming, and his voice. After he picked up the vibraphone, his piano playing was done in a twofingered percussive style. He achieves remarkable effects, using only his index fingers, though this style is essentially limited. Hampton’s drumming is characterized by his trademark exuberance, which sometimes disguises technical issues. He greatly enjoyed singing, and he modeled his performances after Armstrong’s.

Early Works. Hampton first recorded in 1924 on drums. He performed the first recorded vibraphone solo in 1930, during Armstrong’s recording “Memories of You.” He also participated in radio broadcasts from the Cotton Club in California (with Armstrong).

Victor Recordings. Hampton’s recordings for Victor comprised twenty-three sessions cut between 1937 and 1940. Hampton used varying sidemen in his groups, whichwere almost always called Lionel Hamptonand His Orchestra. His sidemen included members from the groups of Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. Hampton’s Victor recordings were intended to compete with the Teddy Wilson-Billie Holiday recordings made for Brunswick Records (begun in 1935).However, theHampton sessions were less successful than Wilson’s. Many of the inspired moments on these recordings come from Hampton’s sidemen. Ziggy Elman, section trumpeter for Goodman, is featured on many pieces, and he contributes several excellent solos. Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges, members of Ellington’s orchestra, add a distinctive sound to “The Sun Will Shine Tonight” from the January 18, 1938, session. September 11, 1939, is widely regarded as one of the best sessions, and it features a young Gillespie playing with Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Christian (on his first recording), among others.

In addition to his vibraphone solos, which are plentiful,Hampton is showcased in several other ways on these recordings. He plays in his two-fingered piano style on several pieces (“China Stomp” is one of the best examples). He sings several times, including on “After You’ve Gone” and “In the Mood That I’m In.” He also performs on drums on “Drum Stomp.” Hampton had the opportunity to play some original pieces during these recordings, including “Rock Hill Special,” “Down Home Jump,” and “Fiddle Diddle.”

“Flying Home.” This piece, a Hampton original, received its first treatment in 1939 with the Goodman Sextet. Hampton and his sidemen also recorded it during the February 26 small group session for Victor. These first two versions are relaxed, almost listless, hardly foreshadowing the raucous big band rendition that would make the charts. In 1942 the pianist for Hampton’s big band, Milt Buckner, arranged the piece, and the Hampton band recorded it that same year. This version features a trumpet solo by Ernie Royal that echoes the explosive power of Hampton and a tenor solo by Illinois Jacquet that was emulated by countless rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll tenor players in the following years. This recording, Hampton’s first and only hit, was rehashed many times on records and in performances throughout the band’s lifespan, sometimes under different guises (such as 1949’s “Wee Albert”). The song was also popular among other big bands, and it was recorded by several bands in the years following 1940.

“Mingus Fingers.” This 1947 piece represented Hampton’s short foray into bebop. The piece, written by the bassist Charles Mingus when he was only twenty-five, was more complex and unorthodox music than the Hampton band was accustomed to playing. Though Mingus, who played with Hampton’s band from 1947 to 1948, would move on to a fruitful career as a jazz composer, “Mingus Fingers” was a fragmented piece illsuited for the Hampton band. It was the reaction of the band and the public to this piece that turned Hampton back towardmore popular styles, including rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie.

Musical Legacy
Hampton was essentially the first and only important vibraphone player until Milt Jackson, a bop player. Though Red Norvo had experimented with the instrument in the 1920’s, it was Hampton who transformed the instrument from a novelty into an exciting medium for improvisation. Hampton left behind a staggering number of recordings. His best are those with the Benny Goodman groups, in which he exhibits a fine technical command over his instrument and cohesive musical ideas. He received numerous honorary doctorates, including his first in 1953 from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. In 1983, the music school at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, was renamed the Lionel Hampton School of Music in honor of the jazz musician. The school also renamed its international jazz festival for Hampton.

Tags: USA, Singer, 1900-1909

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