Remembering Lionel Hampton

sound clips from special Carnegie Hall concert

I remember it was with great sadness eight years ago when I learned of the passing of Lionel Hampton. Hamp was an important influence in my life and played a key role in my decision to become a jazz vibist.

When I was a boy growing up in Nova Scotia, he came to my town of Sydney with a blockbuster band that included future jazz greats Clifford Brown, Quincy Jones, Art Farmer and a host of others. The effect of the whole evening - Hamp's showmanship, his choice of material, his pacing and drive - left an indelible impression on me and prompted me to buy a small xylophone. It was all I could afford back then, but I practiced it over eight hours a day.

Later on in Halifax, when I formed a local jazz group, Hampton came in one night and played his "King David Suite" on my vibes, accompanied by Oscar Denard who was his pianist at the time. The local paper covered the event and here is the photo.

Hamp Photo in The Cape Breton Post. Hampton playing my vibes in Halifax with my group when I was just starting out. The club was called "777 Barrington," and he played his "King David Suite." Oscar Denard, his pianist at the time, also played. Hamp Hampton playing my vibes at a gig I did at Sonny's Place in Seaford, Long Island in the 80's.
Click on photo for larger view.

Years later in America, as I became more established as a musician, we became friends and he would invite me to attend various musical events as his guest. He would also show up unexpectedly at my gigs. I always felt he knew how much I was influenced by his music and enjoyed checking out my progress. I remember doing a gig at Sonny's Place in Seaford, Long Island in the 80's and Hampton walked in with his lady friend to hear me play. Again, much to my delight, he played on my vibes - just like he had done when I was getting started.

In 1988 I was honored to be invited to play the vibes in Hampton's place at Carnegie Hall at the 50th anniversary re-creation of the historic Benny Goodman concert of 1938. Because of a prior touring commitment, Hampton was unable to appear at this event, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Jazz Society. The concert took place on the exact day of the original concert (January 16th), and Goodman's daughter, Benjie formally presented her father's clarinet to Isaac Stern, who accepted it on behalf of the hall. I played in Hamp's style for this event and threw in some of his trademark laughs in tribute. Luminaries at this concert included Doc Cheatham, Panama Francis, and others.

Of course, there will never be another Lionel Hampton or another musical era with that kind of magic, but thanks to recording technology his contribution will live forever. He was the ambassador of the vibes and it is because of him that this unique instrument is on the world map today.

Thank you, Hamp.

Sound Clips
In paying homage to this legend, I would like to share excerpts from that Carnegie Hall concert with you:

Avalon (1.55 MB mp3, 3:18 mins)
Stompin' At The Savoy (2.3 MB mp3, 4:55 mins)