Lionel Hampton - vibraphone; Unidentified orchestra; Special guests:; Bunny Briggs - tap dancer; Candido - congas; Milt Buckner - piano; Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - tenor sax; Panama Francis - drums
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 'n' blues and early rock 'n' roll. Thirty-some years later, he was still bringing that same kind of exuberant energy to his performances, like he did at this Carnegie Hall concert as part of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival.
Hamp takes the stage to strains of "Air Mail Special," a tune he helped popularize with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Following that rousing opener, the dynamic ensemble jumps into a rendition of Horace Silver's funky boogaloo, "Psychedelic Sally" and follows up with Frank Foster's Latin flavored groover, "Raunchy Rita." Hampton is next prominently featured on vibes and vocals on a small band rendition of the cheery Tin Pan Alley number "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Organist Milt Buckner takes over on a reprise of that number while Hamp pays tribute to an old colleague, alto sax great Johnny Hodges, whom he had recorded that same tune with back in the 1930s. They run through a brassy big band arrangment of Miles Davis' "Milestones" that features a high flying solo by the vibraphone ace. Hamp, who is fond of reprises, then spontaneously jumps into a small band rendition of the same Miles tune, stretching out a little further this time on vibes.
For a lovely waltz-time rendition of "Mr. Bojangles" the band is accompanied by tap dancer Bunny Briggs, paying tribute to the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Milt Buckner, who appeared earlier in the evening as one of the Three Bad Pennies, then joins the ensemble on piano for a romp through "Hamp's Boogie Woogie." And they close out the set in high-flying fashion with guest tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis jamming along on Hamp's signature tune, "Flying Home."
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. In 1996, at age 88, he received the prestigious National Medal of Arts presented to him by President Bill Clinton. He died from congestive heart failure on August 31, 2002 in New York City. (Milkowski)