100 Jazz Profiles
1908 - 2002
Vibraphonist and drummer. The first great vibraphone soloist in jazz, Hampton began his career as a drummer in the Chicago Defender Newsboys' band. By the late 1920s he had moved to the West Coast and was billed as 'The World's Fastest Drummer' at Frank Sebastian's New Cotton Club in Culver City.
He doubled on vibes after Louis Armstrong famously invited him to take a solo on the instrument in his 1930 disc of Memories of You. Hampton could always be relied on to produce long, melodically interesting solos on ballads, but he was also a hard-swinging uptempo player, and this is what led Benny Goodman to recruit him to join his quartet in 1936.
This made Hampton a household name , and he finally left in 1940 to form his own big band which he has led on and off ever since. While with Goodman he made a series of all star jam session discs under his own name, gaining the reputation for putting together highly successful studio groups that could always be relied upon for swing and excitement, and which used virtually all the major big band players of the era.
His own big band featured an impressive roll-call of great players from Illinois Jacquet and Dexter Gordon to Clifford Brown and Charles Mingus. Hampton's own brilliance and competitive flair led him to many a musical joust with his star sidemen, always illuminated by his extrovert stage presence, whether singing, or playing drums, vibes or even piano, on which he has a highly unorthodox style.
In the 1990s he toured with a smaller band - his 'Golden Men' of jazz - all veterans of the swing era. he has been involved for many years in community work and education, and has received many awards in connection with this. The University of Idaho names its music school in his honour, and there is also an annual Lionel Hampton music festival which involves scores of young players from across the United States.
Lionel Hampton (With James Haskins) Hamp - An Autobiography (London, Robson Books) 1989
The Legendary Decca Recordings (Decca GRD 2-652) 2 CD set
Suggested track: Flying Home
Lionel Hampton School of Music
At the University of Idaho
on radio 3
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