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ClassicsOnline Home » HAMPTON, Lionel: In The Mood For Swing (1937-1940)
In The Mood For Swing Original Recordings 1937-1940
"When Benny Goodman plucked me off the stage of a Los Angeles ballroom in 1936 to become a member of his famous quartet, Swing was at the height of its popularity and still climbing." Lionel Hampton
One of the most celebrated figures of the Swing Era and among jazzs most exuberant, extrovert showmen, multi-instrumentalist (drummer, vibraphonist, pianist and singer) Lionel Hampton was born into a middle-class family in Louisville, Kentucky, on 20th April, 1909. After a childhood spent in both Louisville and Birmingham, Alabama, from 1916 he lived in Chicago with his grandparents who sent him to the Holy Rosary Academy in Collins, Wisconsin, where he learned the rudiments of drumming from Sister Petra, a Dominican nun. Later, he attended St. Monicas Catholic school in Chicago and gained his first after-hours drumming experience at local gigs. After his grandmothers death, he lived with his jet-setting uncle Richard Morgan. A successful bootlegger in the pay of Al Capone (who was, as Hamp himself relates, via the work provided by his speakeasies, "the savior of the black musicians in those days"), Morgan bought him drums and generally encouraged his musically talented nephew.
Lionel became a member of the Chicago Defender youth band, a classical orchestra which modelled itself on the Chicago Symphony where he "got ear training" from its organiser Major N. Clark Smith, a noted educator under whose tutelage he also studied timpani and xylophone. In 1924, in search of fame and fortune, he ventured to Hollywood where, to supplement his at first meagre income from music, he took a menial job in a drugstore in Culver City, adjacent to the MGM film studios, but by providing after-hours entertainment for movie stars, he was soon mixing in the right musical circles. Indeed, according to his own account, he made his first recordings in Los Angeles that same year, as a drummer at a Reb Spikes Legion Club Forty-Fives session. Over the next five years Hamp became an established professional in and around L.A., working regularly in various "territory" bands, notably that led by Spikes, Curtis Mosebys Blue Blowers and Paul Howards Quality Serenaders (with this nine-piece he recorded, on drums, for Victor, in April 1929). By 1929 he was also drumming with Louis Armstrong and at a mid-1930 Armstrong recording session first featured the vibes which, reputedly, he had found lying around in the studio.
By 1930, Hamp already knew that the Quality Serenaders "werent playing [his] kind of music". He wanted to swing and, in collaboration with the Serenaders leader (his old friend from Chicago, Santa Monica-born alto-saxophonist Les Hite, 1903-1962) he set up a resident band at Sebastians Cotton Club in Culver City. Until 1932 Louis Armstrong also worked regularly with this band which interspersed dance music à la Gus Arnheims Coconut Grove Orchestra with hot jazz numbers. There, drummer Hamp first began to feature vibes seriously and quickly won recognition for his new jazz instrument via a series of promotional shorts. From 1935 he led his own band in California and early the following year, through the good offices of recording guru John Hammond, was introduced to Benny Goodman. Hamp played, at first informally, in various small groups led by Goodman (he would continue to play and record with Goodman ensembles until 1940) and in mid-1936, while still leading a nine-piece at the Los Angeles Paradise Club, rocketed to fame when, at Goodmans invitation, his "vibraharp" became the latest addition to the by now famous Trio. Hamp made his first records with Goodman, Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson in Hollywood, on 13th August, 1936, and their outstanding success led to Hamp becoming a permanent member of Goodmans entourage and, by extension, a key figure in the evolution of Swing. After making his official début with Goodman in New York, at the Pennsylvania Hotel, on 21st November, he was subsequently a regular member of the Goodman Sextet and, after Gene Krupas sudden departure in 1938, often sat in with the Goodman big-band.
His association with Goodman led to Hampton being requested by RCA-Victor to make his own series of small-group recordings. Featuring available musicians ad hoc from Ellington and other "visiting" big-bands, Hamps own first recordings remain in their own special way jazz classics. Exuberant gems of the Swing discography they are, rather predictably, a mixture of hot jazz numbers (witness the pyrotechnic displays of China Stomp, featuring the masterly alto of Johnny Hodges and Twelfth Street Rag) and mid-tempo commercial standards (the sensitive ballad style of One Sweet Letter From You, featuring Hamptons individual vocalising, and I Cant Get Started are among the finest examples). Indeed, several titles entered the US popular chart Top 30, including Hamps first hit The Mood That Im In (featuring Krupa, this charted at No.20, in March 1937) and Hamps own Swing original Flying Home (a US No.25 in May 1940).
Peter Dempsey, 2002
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Peter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including Loves Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heartfelt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great masters" who were it not for CD might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Peter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.
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HAMPTON, Lionel: In The Mood For Swing (1937-1940)