Lionel Hampton: The Complete Victor Sessions 1937-41
by Loren Schoenberg
Lionel Leo Hampton lived to the ripe, Nestorian age of 94, and kept his big band together longer than any of his contemporaries. After fits and starts as a bandleader, Hampton formed a big band upon leaving Benny Goodman in 1940, and it worked consistently in varying configurations for over sixty years. He created a musical universe that was all his own, and it ranged from (to use H.L. Mencken’s notable phrase) a carnival of bumcombe to simply exquisite. The common denominator was Hampton’s unquenchable desire to engage his audience and he was willing to take any step necessary to that end. This included having a band member jump off a bridge into the water, and on one notable occasion, continuing to play after the promoter of a seaside venue told the band to cease and used the rotating stage to turn the band towards the water, with no electricity. Hampton frankly behaved like a man possessed (though big band chronicler George T. Simon once wondered by precisely what) and there can be no doubt that he demanded at least as much of himself as he demanded from his musicians. It may have been the extremity of his desire to please his public that led to what could benevolently be called his moral myopia when it came to relations with his employees. This is not unrelated to the music herein.
Unburdened by the aesthetic and in many cases, the moral considerations that concerned his peers (encouraged greatly by his wife Gladys, who was not for a moment bound by any of the gender- or race-based limitations placed on her by the music business) Hampton paid the lowest wages imaginable, and churned out a product that was immediately identifiable and attractive to the lowest common denominator of popular taste. That as much good music came out of his bands is it did was due to his indefatigable energy, musical abilities and a desire to please his audience. It certainly did not arise from a desire on his part to encourage the individuality of his sidemen; rather, he used them in the most utilitarian mode imaginable. As one of his ex-sidemen trombonist/composer/arranger Slide Hampton (no relation) told interviewer Bob Bernotas:
After Buddy Johnson I had the misfortune of going with Lionel Hampton. I was much better off with Buddy, because Buddy was the exact opposite to Lionel Hampton… (who) is also a great musician, but really not a very caring person. He never really tried to give the musicians the kind of conditions that they could work in and would inspire them. And he never really inspired people to go to other heights. If you were with his band and he really liked you, he would almost threaten you if you wanted to leave and go with somebody else.
And that was very unfortunate because he was a guy that had possibilities, especially for a lot of the Afro-American musicians, to open up doors for them. But he was such an egomaniac he couldn't consider what was happening for anybody else.
He had a lot of good musicians in the band. Clifford Brown was there, Wes Montgomery was there, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson. And had some good bands. Sometimes the band was fantastic, but he still had to be the one that was noticed the most. He had to be out front, which was good. The guys were for that, too, but he never was able to say, "This band is really something that's important in my musical life." He could never do that.
It is the intimate musical contact with his peers and his willingness, on occasion, to let them take the musical reins on these sessions that makes this series so remarkable and so revealing of the best Hampton had to offer.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 20, 1908, Hampton’s family relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, and the young Lionel was eventually sent to Chicago to be raised by his grandmother. He was surrounded by many of jazz’s founding fathers. In and around the city at that time were King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton. There were also youngsters like him who were immersed in the music, including Dave Tough, Milt Hinton, Benny Goodman, and Sid Catlett. The negative effects of city life persuaded his grandmother to send Lionel to a Catholic school in nearby Kenosha, Wisconsin (66 miles away) , where one Sister Petra of the Holy Rosary Academy taught him the drum rudiments that in one form or another became the foundation of his musical conception.
The formation of a newsboy’s band formed by the Chicago Defender gave the young Hampton the opportunity to expand his percussion skills as he graduated from the bass drum to the snare, the tympani and eventually the marimba. A major influence was percussionist Jimmy Bertrand, who was featured for a decade in Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra, which was one of Chicago’s most famous African-American units. Bertrand tutored not only Hampton, but also Catlett and many other budding drummers. Playing an instrument with notes led to an early knowledge of harmony, which put him in good stead as he began to memorize and perform solos by his favorite players (most notably Earl Hines and Armstrong) on his mallet instruments. Leaving home while still in his mid-teens to join a band, Hampton eventually ran into saxophonist Les Hite, who when he formed his own band, asked the young drummer to move to Los Angeles. Conveniently, Hampton was a relative who worked at a film studio, so he had a home base as he established himself, and pretty soon found a featured spot (on the drums and the piano, as well as singing) with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, an outstanding band which remains relatively obscure to most jazz historians, notwithstanding the footnote given them in Gunther Schuller’s The Swing Era. It was a first-rate unit, easily on the same level as the best East Coast bands. In the music notes that follow, Louis Armstrong paints a wonderful picture of the young LA-based Hampton, whose combination of vivaciousness and swing was irresistible. It was those qualities which landed him a steady job as the drummer at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club, where he played in several bands. When Armstrong himself appeared there (backed by Hite’s band), he was smitten, as noted, with Hampton, an association that was documented extensively on a series of classic recordings where Hampton not only swung the band with great taste (Shine), but also engaged in some opening patter with Armstrong (You'’re Driving Me Crazy) as well as playing the vibraphone (Memories of You). Much has been made of the last event, but someone in Luis Russell’s band (possibly drummer Paul Barbarin) had already played a vibraphone-like instrument on Armstrong’s Song of the Islands. Indeed, it was Hampton’s playing of Armstrong’s solo from that recording that eventually led the trumpeter to ask Hampton to noodle behind him, which led to Memories of You. Many musicians at the time doubled on the vibes, including Jack Teagarden, who can be seen playing them in a 1929 Ben Pollack short.
After the Armstrong gig ended, Hampton spent the next several years playing with Les Hite, while remaining the house drummer at the Cotton Club, as well playing in Charlie Echols’s band. He eventually formed his own big band, which included Herschel Evans, Johnny Miller, Bumps Meyer and Tyree Glenn. In 1936 he was reunited with Armstrong, playing the vibes during a Hawaiian-inspired session for Decca Records as well as an on-screen appearance in Pennies From Heaven, where Hampton backs Louis on Skeleton in the Closet, even coming out from behind the drums to do some tapping. Indeed, as a member of Les Hite’s band, Hampton had already appeared in several films, including Ex-Flame (1930), The Sport Parade (1932), Taxi (1932), Cabin In the Cotton (1933), Fast Workers (1933) and Sing Sinner Sing (1933). He also studied music at the University of Southern California.
During the summer of 1936, the Goodman band was in Hollywood making their first screen appearance in TheBig Broadcast of 1937 when Benny Goodman heard and jammed with Hampton at the Paradise Café. While it may not have been as cartoonish an affair as was immortalized in The Benny Goodman Story (Benny once told me that Rock Hudson should have gotten his role instead of Steve Allen), Hampton was indeed functioning as the major domo at this rather seedy joint. Goodman was so impressed by Hampton that he brought Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton down to jam the following night, and just hours later the Goodman Trio became a quartet by recording a bona-fide masterpiece, Moonglow. Their synergy brought out the very best in Hampton. Indeed, the best recordings Hampton was to make over the course of his long career were always as a sideman or when functioning under someone else’s musical direction.
Goodman sent for Hampton to come to New York and join the Quartet full time in November 1936. His extroverted personality made for a perfect fit, matching at times Krupa’s maniacal zeal and offering a marked and welcome contrast to Goodman and Wilson’s relative soberness. Wilson was already a year and a half into his classic small group series for Brunswick Records (with a sister series led by Billie Holiday for Vocalion) when Hampton was approached to create the recordings that comprise this collection.
THE COMPLETE LIONEL HAMPTON VICTOR SESSIONS 1937-1941
(a) February 8, 1937
My Last Affair is a modest affair highlighting the leader’s inspired vibraphone and ingratiatingly amateurish vocal. While no one knows who wrote the arrangements for this and many of the other arranged sessions in this series, there is an off-handed brilliance to the scoring for trumpet and saxophone section that is reminiscent of Jimmy Mundy, who was working full-time for Goodman at the time. Hymie Schertzer led the Goodman reed section with a feathery lightness all his own, and the others modulated their tones to achieve a perfect balance. This was quite an accomplishment for tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, who joined the band the previous summer with barely passable reading skills; he caught up in record time. Jess Stacy was known to drive vocalists to distraction with his accompaniments, which frequently come off as full-fledged solos. Listen to his work here as another stream of counterpoint with some characteristically beautiful Stacian moments. Gene Krupa also kicks in with a few understated backbeats behind the last eight of the vocal to heat things up a tad. The noticeably faster alternate take seems to have been recorded second, as we hear the engineers experimenting with boosting the level of the saxophone section during their fills to the vocal, most notably at the end of the first eight bars.
Jivin’ the Vibres contains the first of many solos in this collection by Ziggy Elman, who had not yet fallen into the post-And the Angels Sing yiddishkeit shtik that was to become his trademark. Elman was a superior technician and had already arrived at a personal distillation of the jazz trumpet tradition. The engineers still seem to be searching for a good balance between the vibes and the ensemble. One of the benefits of putting the rhythm section in the foreground as they did is the exposure of Allan Reuss’s superb contribution. Krupa is in an appealingly subdued mood throughout the date, and helps pace the soft/loud/soft dynamic shape of this performance, saving his press roll and bass drum exclamations for Elman’s chorus, especially in its last eight bars. The chords to this Hampton original presage Charlie Shavers’s 1938 Undecided.
The Mood that I’m In, along with My Last Affair was clearly being pushed by its publishers. On the same day, Eddie Farley’s band was recording the former for Decca, and just ten days later Teddy Wilson recorded both of them with vocals by Billie Holiday. It’s an above-average pop tune, distinguished here by Reuss’s beautiful strums and broken-chords behind the vocal and a two measure Stacy modulation. Also worth noting is the gorgeous sotto-voce balance that Elman and the Schertzer-led reeds achieve in the closing moments.
Hampton never lost his passion for the drums, and he filled in for flu-stricken Gene Krupa with the Goodman band at the Pennsylvania Hotel in early January 1937. The Victor series includes many examples of his drumming, as Hampton frequently concluded his sessions with a hell-for-leather fast romp; Stomp is the first and one of the best of these affairs. Based on Tiger Rag chord changes, it features Elman, who flirts with some upper and lower neighbors (that’s music theory talk); George Koenig, a journeyman big band and studio man playing a cliché-free alto solo; Jess Stacy, whose two hands fight a battle of contrary motion (revisiting some of Elman’s dissonances); a chorus split between Art Rollini and Musso (who jumps in seamlessly a few measures early); another split chorus, this time showcasing bassist Goodman and Reuss (interpolating yet more some humorous dissonances); and then of course, the leader, rap-tap-tapping away before swinging the band out in the last chorus, where we also hear for the first time some his patented grunting and shouting. One of the more intriguing things about Hampton’s drumming was how softly he played when not soloing. Many drummers play at a louder dynamic level that obscures the more delicate instrumental overtones; not Hampton. On this piece, Hampton alternates press rolls with accented rim shots to create his narrative.
(b) April 14, 1937
Having used his brothers in the Goodman band on his inaugural date, Hampton wasted no time in getting some Ellingtonians into the studio. Three days before this session, the Goodman and Ellington bands appeared at a benefit held at the Alvin Theater, which may have been the genesis of this particular combination. And just fifteen days earlier, trumpeter Cootie Williams, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, Reuss, bassist John Kirby and drummer Cozy Cole had all recorded with Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday for Brunswick Records and the comparison between the two dates is instructive. Wilson, who imparted a reflective and controlled air to his sessions, wrote simple but organized arrangements and took pains to unify the rhythm section harmonically. Hampton had for the most part a more laissez-faire policy that relied more heavily on the band’s ability to coalesce quickly. When it happened, magic frequently followed. Also, the 1937 Victor engineers had not quite figured out how to capture the ebb and flow of a rhythm section. Here the recording quality is slightly more clinical; on the Wilson date there’s more air in the grooves. But Oddly, clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow’s name appeared on the original 78 issues of this session, but to these ears he is inaudible.
Buzzin’ ’Round with the Bee is an odd concoction, with a few vamps surrounded by a simple minor-keyed theme. Unfortunately, it got the better of bassist John Kirby, whose missteps throughout cloud the harmonies. Stacy did his best to underline the chords with strong bass notes whenever possible to keep things on track, and for the most part it works. As inspired as the solos are (with horse-whinnies from Williams, Hodges’s fleet fingering, and an authentic buzz from Brown) it’s the precision and swing of the ensemble playing that thrills. The horns bite into their ensemble parts with a unity that comes from having spent several years on the same bandstand. Cozy Cole’s little brush-slaps here and there are a defining characteristic of his work on the Hampton sessions, and they add subtly but immeasurably to their success. This is a hot record.
Whoa Babe is a rather messy affair, with the balance far from optimum. The drums are too hot in the mix, the horns are frequently muffled in the background, and there are moments (the last bridge) where no one seems to know exactly what’s happening. Having said all of that, it is nevertheless a superlative performance that swings from the first note to the last and which has more than its share of surprises, most notably Hodges’s break and solo.
Stompology is a medium fast jam on I Got Rhythm. The horns and the leader solo, backed with imagination by Stacy’s piano, and the out choruses are again notable for Cole’s strutting accents. The Ellingtonians all had the ability to weave an ironic sense into their solos. Whether this was something innate or something that developed from the sophistication of Ellington’s compositional sense, or more than likely, a combination of the two, it distinguishes their work from the majority of their peers.
(c) April 26, 1937
Twelve days later, Hampton reassembled the rhythm section, Hodges and added clarinetist Buster Bailey. The excellent transfers in this collection let us to hear details that were previously obscure. Hodges’s classic opening chorus and fills behind the vocal throughout On the Sunny Side of the Street have long had classic status, but the faint Stacy and Reuss fills throughout can now be properly appreciated as part of the musical canvas. Hodges’s gorgeous sound can also be more fully appreciated, and the slinky high notes and fills he plays behind Hampton’s closing vibraphone bridge are some of the most poetic moments to be found in the entire series. It has been said that Ellington was not happy that one of his sidemen had given someone else a hit record. We do know that just one month later Hodges made his first session as a leader. This tune became a decades-long feature for Hodges in the band. The lyric’s reference to Rockefeller (which in Hamptonese comes out as “Rockyfellow”) is amusing in light of Hampton’s later allegiance to the Republican Party and mutually advantageous relationship with Nelson Rockefeller (and later, the Bushes as well).
Rhythm, Rhythm is our second romp on I Got Rhythm and it is a pleasure to hear so much unbridled Hodges, who must have been a terror in a jam session! Hodges takes the lead in the opening chorus which functions more as a solo than melody statement, with Bailey noodling away in the background. As has been their wont, Stacy and Reuss divide a chorus, highlighting their radically different approaches to improvisation. Stacy’s solos are always couched in CAPITAL LETTERS, bumping into the harmonies as they pass and reveling in the rough edges. Reuss prefers the lower case, approaching things from a harmonic angle, favoring sophisticated and dissonant substitute chords, and always playing with delicacy (granted, some of these characteristics are inherent in the acoustic guitar). It’s worth noting that they spent every day in the Goodman band, where they had precious little solo room, making these sessions all the more special. Bailey was a superb technician who essentially played variations on the same solo for his entire career. This version is spiced with more than a dollop of Jimmie Noone’s evenly phrased arpeggio-based phrases, which makes sense given the clarinet/alto front line. Noone’s late ‘20s recordings featuring himself, altoist Doc Poston and Earl Hines were among the highlights of the era. Both Hampton and Bailey were in Chicago when Noone was at his prime and would have been very much aware of his work. Indeed, both Bailey and Noone recorded with King Oliver’s band. Hampton’s vibes are overshadowed in the recording balance by the rhythm section, but it’s a typically inspired effort nevertheless.
China Stomp is a variation on Chinatown, My Chinatown and is the leader’s first piano feature, of which there will be many. Gifted with great manual dexterity, Hampton is the kind of improviser who likes to fill every available nook and cranny of every measure with material usually derived straight from scales and arpeggios, leavened every now and then with the occasional blues-influenced or melodic paraphrase. There is an obsessive quality to his piano playing that is reminiscent of Conlon Nancarrow’s compositions for player piano. Influenced early on by jazz (through Armstrong, Hines and Tatum) and the rhythmic complexities of Stravinsky, Nancarrow’s music is decidedly original and in a sense monomaniacal. Stacy’s left hand accompaniment follows Hamp’s lead with alacrity and is of almost equal interest. Cole latches on to some of the piano’s downbeat accents, and turns them into a thematic stream of their own.
I Know that You Know is an homage to the famous 1928 Jimmy Noone recording in both the way the clarinet and saxophone play the first chorus and the Noone-inspired phrasing of both reed solos. In fact, Hodges leaves little for Bailey, who follows him, to add. Hodges had his hands full here, playing off-mike soprano saxophone in the first chorus, switching in a matter of beats to the alto, returning to the soprano for the drum solo, then playing the alto on the out chorus. Stacy’s penchant for accompaniment counterpoint can be heard to good advantage behind Bailey’s solo where he uses a variety of effects to create contrast. This also highlights how well the Victor engineers could weave a full piano sound into an ensemble mix; the Goodman small group recordings also bear witness to this rare art. Hampton takes two choruses of his patented rudimentary drumming and follows the shape of the tune nicely.
(d) August 16, 1937
The source material available for this session is far superior to anything we’ve heard before, and the engineers have also managed to isolate the sound of the vibes against the horns with more clarity, though they are still a bit too faint in relation to the rhythm section. Violinist Stuff Smith was one of jazz’s most swinging bandleaders and it’s a shame that he didn’t make this session, since Hampton borrowed the rest of his ensemble. The rhythm section plays Confessin’ with a marching-style rhythm that doesn’t exactly swing but which certainly propels the beat forward. In this context, it’s easy to understand why the Count Basie rhythm section was creating such an uproar that year with their light and malleable approach to jazz rhythm. This was yet another song that Armstrong had recorded a classic version of in the early ‘30s and there elements of his phrasing in Hampton’s opening chorus. Hart gets a chance to stretch out a bit behind the vocal, but the highlight is Cole’s drum fills and the subsequent trumpet solo by Jonah Jones, which is firmly in the Armstrong vein.
Drum Stomp doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that they are really playing Crazy Rhythm. Eddie Barefield, a member of Hampton’s 1936 West Coast big band, was known for his saxophone and arranging skills. He was also a superior clarinetist whose first recordings were the classic 1932 Bennie Moten sessions; he gets around the entire instrument with ease, as his entrance reveals. Hampton’s drum solo begins with cymbals before reverting to the usual rattlings, all done with great technique and enthusiasm. As noted before, the way he drops down to almost nothing when playing for the band is one of the most appealing aspects of his drumming.
Piano Stomp is a variation on Shine, and like many of the tunes in this series, one that Armstrong had introduced had established as a jazz classic. The drummer on that original recording was Hampton and, unlike that version, this one speeds up quite a bit as it goes along, but it feels good and that’s what’s most important. Guitarist Bobby Bennett and bassist Mack Walker did not record much, if at all, after their stint with Smith’s band ended in the ‘30s. Cole achieves the same effect with brush accents behind Hampton’s piano solo as he did on China Stomp. Jones again incorporates some classic Armstrong phrases in the climatic out chorus.
Another Armstrong evergreen is reprised with I Surrender Dear. We’re spared a vocal, and instead we get two Hampton choruses that reveal his Bach-like fascination with the resolution of chords and the possibilities of dissonance stated against a ground bass. The band falls into double-time for the second bridge before returning to the original tempo with horns leading the way home.
(e) September 5, 1937
There’s a different feeling about this session; the tunes, tempos and arrangements explore new territory. Hampton sings on every title, but this is more than compensated for by the springy feeling of the rhythm section and the cohesiveness of the horns. The engineers also contribute to the session’s success with a far better balance between the rhythm section, horns and vibes than we have heard so far. Bassist Johnny Miller was a Los Angeles mainstay, best known for taking Wesley Prince’s place in Nat Cole’s Trio in 1942. At the time of this session, he was probably best known for having been a longtime member of The Harlem Dukes, who were the house band at the Club Alabam. Their leader was Dootsie Williams, famous in the ‘50s as the composer of Earth Angel.
The Object of My Affection is taken at a brisk medium tempo, with Art Rollini taking the pleasant bridge in the opening chorus. A superlative section man and a reliable soloist, he has was the younger brother of the multi-instrumentalist Adrian Rollini. Why Vido Musso made as many sessions as he did on the clarinet remains a mystery; his efforts here are full of feeling but decidedly primitive relative to the other players and his own tenor work. The Goodman band was on the West Coast, filming Hollywood Hotel while appearing at various theaters and ballrooms. Teddy Wilson made two sessions for his Brunswick series over the summer, and had used Reuss, Musso and Cole on them. Goodman sat in on one of them, and it’s possible that he considered joining in on this date, hence the presence of clarinet parts in the arrangements, making Musso a last-minute sub. Elman’s solo varies the melody nicely and just hints at his tremendous and at times overpowering strength. Stacy always conjures a meditative spell during his solos, even when limited to short spots as he is here (not counting his playing behind the vocal). Note the way his ideas spring from both hands. Reuss also has a brief but telling spot. The alternate take is a mite faster, has a slight Elman clam when the melody comes in, and seems just a bit rushed.
Judy is the poetic highlight of the sessions so far. Reuss strums an intriguing intro and continues to contribute beautifully throughout the first chorus and then bridges to the vocal. The tune is one of Hoagy Carmichael’s most charming, and it inspires the band to a superlative performance. Elman and Stacy weave a lovely tapestry behind the vocal; note how the scenery changes when Musso enters. Somehow, the vibes wind up being obscured by the band in the out chorus; strange.
Whoever wrote the arrangements had an elegant touch, as revealed in the intro to Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home, scored for Musso’s tenor, vibes, guitar and bass. The fact that the trumpet is above the tenor in the opening chorus’s voicing suggests that Musso is playing what was meant to be a clarinet part. Elman blasts into his solo – he was able to overpower the entire Goodman big band when he felt like it. The band’s return to a quiet level when the vibes reenter is a moment to savor.
Elman’s clarion call and Cole’s fluttering hi-hat cymbals bring on Everybody Loves My Baby. Creating spontaneous ensemble passages with coherence is a special art, and it’s no insult to say that with Musso on clarinet, these three step on each other’s toes on more than one occasion. The musical alchemy for ensemble improvisation is a delicate thing. The opening chorus brings the temperature way up, cooling off only slightly when Hampton’s vocal starts. Elman’s muted solo makes up in sheer vigor what it lacks in melodic elegance and you can hear Hamp shout an encouragement as he begins his vibes chorus. One of the most charming things about these 78-length performances is that the best ones, like this, leave you wanting more.
After You’ve Gone is taken at a medium slow tempo, with impassioned Musso fills behind the vocal. Later on, Musso sounded as though he was trying to copy Coleman Hawkins but at this early stage he is clearly his own man. Hampton, on the drums, backs Stacy’s elegiac solo with some 1920s style punctuations before taking a double time break and ushering in Elman. The drum solo, like others, follows the shape of the tune nicely and shuffles Hampton’s standard licks around in a fashion that never seems canned.
It’s hard to fathom why the session’s producers let Hampton record so many vocals. Jazz instrumentals with a jazzy vocal kind of make sense, but pieces that had been sung into immortality by the like of Ethel Waters were far beyond his grasp; nonetheless this version of I Just Couldn’t Take It Baby has its merits. Stacy’s chime chords lead to guitar and trumpet ascending an arpeggio together. Elman’s muted opening chorus is notable for the jammed ensemble behind it, including some piano tremolos that will be reprised in Hampton’s closing bridge, which is preceded by a Reuss interlude. The jam out shows that when a clarinet and trumpet haven’t agreed on their respective roles, cacophony can follow.
(f) January 18, 1938
Another Ellingtonian session here, not only with horn players this time, but with Sonny Greer, the band’s percussionist, as well. Ellington captured Greer’s genius for orchestral drumming when he wrote “…he was the world’s best percussionist reactor. When he heard a ping he responded with the most apropos pong.” It was a busy day for Greer and bassist Billy Taylor, who also appeared on another recording date with a Barney Bigard small band.
Edgar Sampson, who plays the robust baritone saxophone on this date, was a quiet giant of the ‘30s, composing Stompin’ at the Savoy, Blue Lou, and Don’t Be that Way. Sadly, his earnings on these evergreens were encroached upon by Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, and a variety of publishers. Sampson was also a gifted arranger who came up with a simplified variation of Benny Carter/Horace Henderson school of big band music. He played violin and saxophone in a number of groups, including Ellington’s (briefly in the mid-20s), Fletcher Henderson’s, and Chick Webb’s before concentrating on arranging. It’s fair to assume that all four of the arrangements here are his. While unassuming, they organize things nicely. As Max Harrison and Gunther Schuller have noted in their definitive essays on these recordings, Hampton for all his fame as a bandleader actually asserted very little in the way of stylistic guidance on these sessions, and played at his best when placed in a strongly defined context by an arranger/composer and/or strong soloist. Here it’s Hodges and Williams who crack the aesthetic whip, as the first chorus of Fats Waller’s and Spencer Williams’s You’re My Ideal reveals. What strikes one immediately is their rhythmic precision, which is miles ahead of most of their peers in this series. They clearly found inspiration in the playing of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, turning it into something personal while retaining the tightly wound rhythmic context within with the New Orleans wizards couched their innovations. Hodges and Williams also have the ability to shape their statements in such a way that they add structure and shape to the performance. Their sounds alone conjure atmosphere, as Hodges proves with his fills (done again in tandem with Stacy) behind the vocal. Reuss is given another chorded interlude and his rock-solid time in the rhythm section should not be taken for granted. It’s fair to assume that he was an inspiration to his fellow rhythm-section mates – few guitarists of the era could match him for harmonic, melodic and rhythmic sophistication. One way to listen to this session is to hear the players on different rhythmic planes. You’ll find that Williams, Hodges and Reuss exist on one of their own, with the others sounding (relatively) either slightly slower or faster. This is one of the unique traits about jazz. The entire band is all playing the same tempo, but at slightly different speeds. Paging Albert Einstein!
The previously unissued version of The Sun Will Shine Tonight benefits from slightly more of Reuss’s beautiful accompaniments in the balance; otherwise the two takes are very similar. The bridge of the vocal chorus represents the nadir of Hampton’s ballad work. It’s hard to understand, given his devotion to Armstrong, why he didn’t integrate into his own singing more of the characteristics that made Armstrong’s vocals so dynamic. That’s not even taking into account the issue of diction. Armstrong for all of the New Orleans idiosyncrasies of his style, made every word clear as a bell. As in the previous session, the poetic component of the music comes from the sidemen. There’s more of Hodges’s and Williams’s rhythmic magic, as well as sleek alto obbligatos to the vocal that reveal some of the aspects of Hodges’s style that Ben Webster found so entrancing. The tune is distinguished by the way the first measure of the A section sounds like a pickup coming out of the bridge; the band never sounds 100% certain what to do there.
Ring Dem Bells takes us right into the heart of Ellington territory. This sounds like either a head arrangement or something that could have been sketched out in the studio in a few minutes. We can hear Williams setting the riffs in the outchoruses with Hodges and Sampson joining in a split second later. Reuss’s on-top-of-the-beat strumming leading the rhythm section can be heard clearly throughout this piece. Everyone plays at his best, with Hodges getting the first solo and then playing behind the vocal. Williams’s crescendoing entrance on a single note is one of the factors that makes this one of the series’ highlights, as do Greer’s totally original sound and subtle contributions. There was clearly something about Ring Dem Bells that inspired Hampton; close to the end of his life the vibraphonist was seated next to Dan Morgenstern when the Howard Alden/Dan Barrett Quintet launched into it. Morgenstern noticed the previously lethargic Hampton start to tap his foot vigorously with the band, and within a couple of minutes he was up on the stage jamming on the piano.
Williams, Hodges, Hampton, Reuss and Stacy had all taken part in Benny Goodman’s pioneering Carnegie Hall performance two days earlier when Sampson’s Don’t Be That Way had been the first highlight of the concert. Written for Rex Stewart’s big band, and then recorded twice by Chick Webb, it was the February 16, 1938 recording by the Goodman band that would catapult it into the pantheon of swing anthems. This is a relatively off-handed interpretation – more of a sketch than a finished piece, and has much in common with a Basie small band version recorded a few months later. Both Hodges and Williams paraphrase the melody to great effect, making the leader’s improvisation on the closing bridge even more of a contrast.
(g) July 21, 1938
Hampton hits pay dirt for the first time with arrangements and players that are of equal quality. Benny Carter, 30 years old and just back after three years in Europe, announced his return to his native country with brilliant writing and playing, aided by a band full of mostly newcomers to New York who responded in inspired fashion to Carter’s scores. It’s worth noting that the great bulk of musicians on these sessions were under 30, and that their work, for all its maturity, still has the sheen of youth to it. Texas is represented by 22 year-old Benny Goodman trumpeter Harry James (his family moved there from Georgia when he was in his mid-teens), and 28 year old Herschel Evans, featured tenor saxophonist (along with Lester Young) with Count Basie. Evans had met Hampton in Charlie Echols’s West Coast band in 1935 and then worked with Hampton’s own big band before joining the Basie in late 1936. It was Basie’s rhythm section which astounded New York, and its drummer was Jo Jones (26), known for his emphasis on playing the flow of the rhythm rather than its strict demarcation. Dave Matthews (27) was to become better known as a tenor saxophonist/arranger, but at this time was leading the Goodman reed section, from which tenor man Babe Russin (27) had just migrated to the Tommy Dorsey band. As we have seen, John Kirby (29) was a mainstay of jazz record dates at this time, and was just months away from his first session as a leader – his pianist was Billy Kyle (24).
I’m in the Mood for Swing is not only a highlight in the Hampton and Carter discographies, but a jazz classic for all time. Everything comes together and a synergy takes place where the sum is truly greater than even these distinguished parts. Carter had a way of composing that created a perfect balance between written and improvised segments, and his mastery of orchestration placed everything in the optimal register for all the instruments at hand. Here, it’s a relatively intimate ensemble of trumpet, four saxophones, vibes and a three piece rhythm section (minus the standard for the time guitar). Harry James was one of the most technically gifted trumpeters of his generation and a member of Goodman’s band, where he had become one of its most popular soloists. Unabashedly in love with Louis Armstrong’s music, he turned down a major magazine award as Best Trumpeter, stating that he couldn’t accept while Armstrong was still playing. Just a few years later, George T. Simon, a major chronicler of the big band era wrote that James “actually cried the last time he heard Louis play.” Not content to ape his idol, as Louis Prima and many others did, James was already his own man as he takes the lead during the first chorus, working his way naturally into a series of paraphrases and then free inventions that never lose site of the theme. What follows is truly magical – Carter creating a solo that for all its spontaneity has the hallmarks of a classic composition. His use of symmetry can be heard in all its glory. Every phrase leads to the next, rhyming without falling into the trap of predictability. He also knows how to utilize space – the pause at the end of the bridge is a master stroke, filled as it is by Kyle’s descending left hand scale. Of Carter’s many innovations, it was his perfection of the saxophone soli that most people remember, and the one he crafted here is as representative of the genre as any.
Shoe Shiner’s Drag (recorded by King Oliver as London Blues) makes great use of a series of breaks. Carter’s elegant scoring of this Jelly Roll Morton blues is taken at what drummer Mel Lewis used to call an “in-the-crack tempo” that most bands avoid, since the tendency of many players is to either accelerate or decelerate to where they are more comfortable. It’s worth noting that Morton’s wife Mabel was the sister of Hampton’s mentor Jimmy Bertrand. As has always been the case, the blues function here as blank slate for the players to assert their musical personalities. Hampton, busy as a bee with arpeggios, double-time figures and the occasional dissonance, Carter poised and articulate, slightly more woody on the clarinet, James slashing through the changes like one of the Three Musketeers, and the piece de resistance, 12 bars of cascading blues-drenched southwestern sounds from Evans that make his death only seven months later all the more poignant. For all their differences, the solos mesh into a complete statement, unified by Carter’s setting and the players own innate humility and desire for the greater good. Matthews is responsible for the short alto statement towards the end of the performance. Both this piece and Muskrat Ramble were unusual choices in 1938, and it’s a pleasure to hear them in these streamlined Carter reinterpretations. The latter includes some subtle but adventurous accents from Jo Jones, who spends the great majority of the session pedaling smoothly with his trademark hi-hat work. Bassist Kirby’s work is off kilter harmonically; it would be one thing if he was playing harmolodically with Ornette Coleman, but in this context the effect is disconcerting. The result is a series of linear solos that are not necessarily connected to the bass line, which meanders all over the place. A close examination of Evans’s chorus reveals great ambiguity in its 8+8 bar structure; it sounds as if he turns the beat around at one point. Jones, long accustomed to structural sleight of hand after years with Basie and Lester Young goes right along with it all, poker-faced. Carter, who follows on the clarinet, picks up the floating idea seamlessly and it’s not until halfway through his solo that things get back on the grid. It’s a worthy reminder that playing across the bar lines was not something that Lennie Tristano and company introduced to the jazz world, though they turned it into a cornerstone of their approach. James swashbuckles again with Jones catching his last off-beat note as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Matthews always sounded a little jumbled and slightly less than coherent on the alto, and he’s followed by Kyle whose stabbing, off-kilter left hand jabs are one of the many legacies Earl Hines bequeathed to his fellow pianists. Russin’s chorus is typically smooth and is distinguished by his above-average lyricism. Hampton was a competitive player, and Carter’s placing him last in a string of solos, with limited space, was a smart choice to elicit his best.
Anytime at All is notable for James’s original stylings with the melody in the first chorus. Everything seemed to be in perfect balance for him, and it was only after he formed his own band that his ballad work took on the schmaltzy quality that helped skyrocket him to fame. Babe Russin was known for his advanced harmonic sense and his obbligato to the leader’s vocal is in the same high league as his contemporaneous accompaniments to Billie Holiday and Maxine Sullivan. Hampton sounds unusually like his peer Red Norvo in the coda.
(h) October 11, 1938
Although the personnel of this group can not equal any of the preceding sessions in terms of sheer talent and/or star power, this is a far more successful BAND session than most. It’s fair to assume that the writing was done by Budd Johnson, since he was already a noted arranger. He was, also, along with saxophonist George Oldham, an Armstrong alumnus (Class of ’33). The arrangements all have a clearly defined point of view and the band knows just what to do with them. Far less ambitious or subtle than Carter’s work on the previous session, they let the band stomp. At least five of the musicians were working with Earl Hines’s band; Trumpeter Walter Fuller (not to be confused with Walter “Gil Fuller” who worked with Dizzy Gillespie in the mid-‘40s) and reedman Omer Simeon (since 1932), Johnson (1935), saxophonist Bob Crowder and drummer Alvin Burroughs were probably new in the band, and made their first recordings with Hines the following year. Bassist Jesse “Po” Simpkins went on to play with Horace Henderson and then was with Louis Jordan for several years. Pianist Spencer Odom spent years as the musical director of two very popular vocal quartets, The Vagabond 4 and The Southernaires. Indeed, it’s known that Fuller, Johnson, Simeon and Burroughs left Hines in 1938 to work with Horace Henderson, so that also must be factored into determining how this specific personnel came together.
The Chicago engineers put the drums way up in the balance, and Burroughs doesn’t disappoint. He played with two legendary territory bands, Walter Page’s Blue Devils and the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra before landing his first name band gig with Hines. Like most of the drummers on these Hampton sessions, he does a lot of hi-hat work and shows how a drummer can rock a band with a minimum of effects.
Down Home Jump expands the Southwestern swing that Herschel Evans introduced in the previous session from the first moments of Budd Johnson’s clarinet solo over the tight band riffs to the descending bass line and Burroughs’s flowing hi-hats. Trumpeter Fuller plays his solo over riffs reminiscent of King Porter Stomp; indeed the tune is based on an inversion of those chord changes. Bob Crowder was a talented arranger in his own right, though overshadowed in the Hines band by Johnson. His tenor chorus is coherent, fluid and influenced by Chu Berry, who will make his Hampton debut in the following session. Hampton relies less on his standard licks and plays two stomping choruses that take the piece out. Burroughs plays some simple but thrilling fills during the last bridge.
Rock Hill Special, named after Denison, Texas’s African-American neighborhood, has an interesting structure that alternates an 8 bar phrase with the 12 bar blues. Hampton starts things off with 16 bars on the piano before Fuller takes us even further into Southwestern jazz territory with two rolling blues choruses that waste no time getting deep into the groove. The leader returns with a repeat of the eight bar phrase and two choruses of the blues. One of the main aesthetic principals of Southwestern swing is the use of space as a defining characteristic; this was one feature Hampton never chose to emphasize, hence the disconnect between his solos and the rest of the band. Budd Johnson may not have been the individual stylist that his peers Webster and Young were but he always had his own way of phrasing and his own feeling, even at his most derivative. A native Texan, Johnson spices his story with dissonance at the beginning of his second chorus--a nod towards Young, who would be the predominant influence on his playing for the next several years. The riff behind Hampton’s outchoruses on the vibes is a close cousin to Count Basie’s Sent for You Yesterday, which had been released earlier in the year.
Fiddle Diddle has an ambiguous form; the introduction is 16 measures (one of its themes shares four measures with the Goodman Quintet’s Pick a Rib, hence Goodman’s co-composer credit) before the saxes start the 32 bar chorus, which is an I Got Rhythm variant with an original Johnson bridge. The saxophone section gets that flowing, other-wordly sound that the New York bands never captured. Hampton’s vocal chorus is harmless in its inanity, and is followed by another eight bar vamp. Worth noting is Fuller’s muted trumpet; his work on this session makes one wish he had more of a chance to shine away from the Hines big band. Also deserving of credit are pianist Odom and bassist Simpkins whose harmonic and rhythmic unity is notable.
(i) April 3, 1939
As good as the previous sessions have been, we have the beginning of an incredible streak of perfection from Hampton here, with radically better recording balances (and source material) and the formation of a unified point of view that benefited from a core personnel spread over several sessions. The rhythm section is superb and one of the premiere foursomes to be recorded during the era. Allan Reuss was, I believe, the catalyst. We have heard him already leading the rhythm section with his superb time and matchless technique and clarity, but there was always a slight lag between him and at least one of the other players. Now Reuss is in the company of three others who can not only match him but, as a unit, place the beat in precisely the same place, which is no small feat. Cole and Hinton were already team mates in Cab Calloway’s band, and pianist Clyde Hart may not have been a knock-your-socks-off soloist, but he was a superb ensemble pianist whose subtle chords, quicksilver responsiveness and sheer musical taste and intelligence were valued greatly by his peers including Roy Eldridge, Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie. The saxophone section is comprised of four master section players with the best pedigrees possible: Schertzer (Goodman/Tommy Dorsey), Procope (Henderson/Webb/Teddy Hill/Kirby), Jerome (Miller/Norvo/Goodman) and Berry (Carter/Hill/Henderson/Calloway). Trumpeter Randolph had come from St. Louis, which already had a distinguished trumpet tradition, and played in the Fletcher Henderson band. He was highly respected by his peers: his Calloway section mate Doc Cheatham told Stanley Dance: “(Randolph) could always play. He had studied a lot, and he played everything, especially good New Orleans music. He was tops in that. He had a good conception…”
I Can Give You Love (co-written by the bandleader) is the first of four above-average arrangements written by trombonist Fred Norman, who made his reputation with Claude Hopkins’s band and was now starting to work for Benny Goodman and ultimately Artie Shaw, Sarah Vaughan and many others. The highlight of this track is Chu Berry’s two bar break and 8 bar solo, which immediately asserts both his individuality and innate gift for solos that no matter how brief, have a distinctive shape. The second half of the bridge contains just a hint of the modal sound he liked to flirt with and that will come to fruition on the following session.
Randolph plays a rather bizarre fanfare over the rolling drums as the band rallies to introduce High Society. It’s taken at a fast clip (indeed, they speed up slightly) though you’d never know it from the effortless way the horns play the intricate Norman score. Both of the themes are rolled out (the major first, then the minor) before Hampton plays a chorus, interrupted in the middle by a phalanx of clarinets. Jerome is next on Benny Goodman’s bass clarinet (borrowed during his tenure with the Goodman band) with a nimble solo, followed by a chorus split between Procope and Berry. The former always had own his slightly sour sound and way of phrasing; no small accomplishment in an era where Carter and Hodges overshadowed and influenced the great majority of their peers. The leader comes back for a second helping, spurred by some exciting Cole cymbal crashes.
What a pleasure it is to hear It Don’t Mean a Thing taken at such a leisurely stroll! Jerome, along with Budd Johnson, was one of the first major-league tenor men to pick up on Lester Young, and he gets the first bridge. A highlight of this performance is Cole’s rolling snare drum work. Until the early ‘40s, jazz drummers spent at least part of their time-keeping time on the snare drum, and in the best hands it gave the music a texture not attainable by cymbal work. The alternate take seems to be the first recorded, given the low level of the piano during the first half of Hart’s solo. Hampton relies less on his standard phrases on the alternate as well, whereas Randolph is equally brave on both takes, feeling his way through the harmonies without playing it safe. He wiggles into some pretty obscure corners but manages to escape with his harmonic integrity intact. Note the descending reed phrase during Hampton’s bridge that Norman reprised from the previous tune.
Johnny Get Your Horn and Blow It again gives Randolph space to extemporize at the top; he seems to be one of those players, like Berry, who has an inexhaustible melodic flow. It’s futile to think of the great jazz moments that could have replaced all the vocals on these sessions, but at least on this one it’s preceded and followed by rolling Berry solos (peppered with phrases that will be expanded upon during the following small group session) floated over Cole’s snare drum rhythms. The out chorus is built off a rather trite riff that is nonetheless given the royal treatment by the band, with a trilling Procope bridge.
(j) April 5, 1939
This is perfection.
Here we have the birth, if the not the apex, in the long legacy of Lionel Hampton records with stomping tenor sax solos. Sweethearts on Parade finds Berry creating a new sound in the tenor saxophone lexicon. This style leavened with an equal dose of Lester Young, would give birth a decade later to the honkin’ R&B sounds that led to early rock and roll. While Illinois Jacquet stoked that fire, it was set by Berry and Young. Equally striking is the sheer perfection of the rhythm section. They carry off one of the most perfect shuffle beats ever recorded. Most times, shuffles get sloppy and heavy because of a lack of definition in the subtle strong and weak parts of the defining beat. The precision heard here allows Hart, Reuss, Hinton and Cole to dig deeply into the groove and Berry is with them every swinging quarter note of the way. Clearly, they had the idea that Berry would play throughout the record, but I wonder if Hampton had even an inkling that the tenor saxophonist would steamroll his way into the pantheon of jazz on this particular effort. Benny Carter’s sequential phrasing and mastery of the saxophone were major influences on the young Berry, and the way he patiently links his phrases is nothing short of miraculous. Then there is also the way he masterfully gradates a vibrato that is at moments as broad as Sidney Bechet’s. In lesser hands (or lips) the high note Berry holds from the fifth measure of his solo into the sixth would be bathetic; in his, it is thrilling. Note his habit of preceding a minor chord with the 13th of the dominant chord which makes for a modal ambiguity that is quite unusual for the era. And let’s not forget Cole’s tantalizing restraint, making his occasionally subtle emphases and slight extension of the hi-hat beat (measures seven and eight of Hampton’s closing chorus) all the more exciting. He was likely aware that Hampton had played drums on Armstrong’s 1930 recording, which was one of the trumpeter’s best ever.
Shufflin’ at the Hollywood, a themeless jam, features the rhythm section using a interesting variation on the previous shuffle. It’s faster and is based on Hinton’s repeated figures during the A sections, alternating with moving lines played at the bridge to great effect. Hampton is at his best at moments like this, held in place by strong sidemen, sacrificing his innate tendency to showboat for the greater good. Hart finally gets a featured spot and uses it to showcase octave passages as well as phrases that have a modal flavor. The balance in the closing chorus favors Hampton slightly, which enables him to stay in the foreground, leaving Berry more in the background than before.
Denison Swing contains an anomaly among Hampton piano solos: the other pianist was not asked to sit at the bottom end of the instrument and pump an accompaniment. We get Hampton attempting to play full-fledged piano and although he falls far short of his non-pianist peers Roy Eldridge’s and Ben Webster’s efforts at the keyboard, he does manage to conjure up memories of Fats Waller. The effort is charming, even with the occasional reversions to his usual hammering style. Berry gets a solo sandwiched in-between the leader, and makes the most of it in his restrained fashion. The tune is named after his wife Gladys’s Texas home town.
These men not only had the ability to play fast tempos, they reveled in it, as Wizzin' the wizz shows. It would have been nice if the session producer had suggested that Hampton leave more space for his sidemen, especially on this recording which clocks in at just two and a half minutes. They could easily have added another chorus (or two) for Berry and the rhythm section. But being the master that he was, Berry manages to say more in one 32 bar chorus than many would ever be able to summon no matter how long they played. It's easy to hear what the young Charlie Parker found so attractive in Berry's playing. The sheer fluidity and evenness of his phrasing was something new to jazz saxophone. This is not to say that Benny Carter, Lester Young and the just emerging Don Byas also didn't fly on their horns, but Berry placed the emphasis differently than they did. He had a way of playing long phrases made possible by a mastery of breathing which included filling his diaphragm with a lot of air combined with the ability to take breaths in unusual places. Tommy Dorsey also used techniques like these to create long, legato lines that were at once the despair of his peers and also of great inspiration to the young Frank Sinatra. The alternate take starts two measures into the performance, which explains what had previously seemed like a very odd decision to play a 30 measure chorus. Hampton's opening two piano choruses are particularly inspired and reveal his harmonic imagination to be quite advanced for the time. He plays during the tenor solo (he lays out to wonderful effect on the issued take) and sounds like someone who pretends to be listening to someone else speak but who is actually waiting for them to stop so they can barrel right in again.
(k) june 9, 1939
The Elman we have here is a different musician than the one we last heard in September 1937. His song,and the angels sing had been a mega-hit for the Goodman band that spring and he was now well into his klezmer phase, during which virtually every solo had the strong flavor of borscht, kasha varnishka and gribenes. It's worth mentioning here that later in life, Hampton himself would embrace the Jewish faith. Elman also leads the ensemble with a sandblasting sound (after all, he had spent the last 2 ½ years in the Goodman band, famed for its powerful trumpet section) that blends far less subtly than Randolph did on the April session. And as good a player as guitarist Danny Barker was, he lacked Reuss's precision, both technically and harmonically. So this is the lesser of the two sessions that share the rest of their personnel. Jerry Jerome is given short solos on if it's good and stand by! for further announcements. Highlights come primarily from Cole, whose sound is well captured. He gets a tremendous variety of textures from his drum set, and adds much to the modest Norman arrangements with his excellent pacing. Hampton's vocals include a few popped "p's" surprising for the usually meticulous Victor engineers. Jan Savitt's band was having quite a bit of success with the shuffle rhythm in 1939 - maybe this partially explains why so many of these titles use that specific beat. stand by! for further announcements has Elman's best moment when he makes a beautiful melodic paraphrase of the first bridge.
Ain't cha comin' home? is a charming if derivative tune based on the harmonies of Louis Armstrong's theme song,when it's sleepy time down south. Chu Berry's half chorus ballad solo is the session's undisputed highlight, followed closely by some understated Hart piano.
big wig in the wigwam was just one of a series of faux-Indian pieces that appeared in 1938-39. Hampton plays the tympanis at the beginning before switching to the drum set for the closing short solos. It's Russell Procope's 16 bar soprano saxophone solo that catches our attention; he brought the soprano out of the closet in 1951, when Duke Ellington featured it as part of his the controversial suite. Like his peers Johnny Hodges and Otto Hardwicke, Procope found it hard to escape the influence of Sidney Bechet when playing the soprano.
(l) june 13, 1939
Given the personnel, this is a disappointing date. The rhythm section plays as if in a trance and, absent their usual Ellingtonian frames, the horn players sound far more human than usual. However, there are some moments to savor: Brown's inspired paraphrasing of the melody on memories of you, as well as his tremendously virtuosictwelfth street ragsolo, and, on the same piece, Stewart's arrestingly humorous entrance and subsequent statement. No wonder Sonny Rollins was entranced with Stewart's playing - his sense of musical irony would be matched by only a few, most notably Thelonious Monk. It was on Louis Armstrong's 1930 memories of you that Hampton had made his debut on the vibes, and you would think that that alone might have inspired Hampton to do something out of the ordinary with this version, but that was not to be. His playing never goes below a very high level of professionalism, but it also rarely ascends to the heights either. Part of the problem is the instrument itself, which allows for very little variety in tone or attack. Later players such as Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson had to almost invent a new approach to the vibes to create more tonal variety. Cab Calloway had a huge hit with the Jumpin' jive; this version seems little more than a run-through, however.
Written for a famous Kansas City hotspot twelfth street rag became the grist for at least two jazz masterpieces, Louis Armstrong's (1927) and Count Basie's, recorded just a couple of months before this one. However, both of them treated the theme in an ironic fashion, deconstructing its raggy melody with rhythmic glee. Hampton is oblivious to this way of thinking, and plunges right into it, finding the tune itself was tailor made for jack-hammer pianists. The newly discovered alternate take finds slight variations in the solos and rhythm section accompaniments and feels just the slightest bit fresher.
(m) september 11, 1939
This is a very strange and very wonderful session. Hampton assembled one if not the greatest saxophone sections of all time, had Benny Carter write arrangements, and gave two young musicians who were to reinvent their respective instruments their first major small group appearance. Yet, for all that, the recordings are frustrating in that there is no synergy, no taking advantage of the incredible resources at his disposal by letting these men do what they did best - spontaneously create ensembles and solos that fed off one another. Instead, while the leader takes the lion's share of the spotlight (his right, of course but not necessarily the right thing to do), the great tenor men are limited to one chorus apiece (Hawkins, as befits his senior status, is granted a few more measures), with Carter allotted the occasional 8 bar spot. So the glass is either half empty or half full).
when lights are low clocks in at a measly 2 minutes and change- it's hard to fathom why no one thought to add another minute to it. Think of the possibilities! Carter's tune is notable for its harmonically challenging bridge, which modulates every two measures up a minor third. Hart takes it in stride as does Hampton, who is in especially inspired form, throwing in some substitute harmonies on his own. The rhythm section has returned to the high plane of the April dates with all four players placing the beat in precisely the same place - you'd be surprised at how rare an occurrence that actually is. All four quarter notes are given equal emphasis so that when an accent is made it means all that much more. There are two takes, and they are largely similar, the only major difference being that the alternate has two major Gillespie flubs and the four bar Hampton and Hawkins breaks are gone. The latter sounds like a lion beating his chest; he would on occasion lose coherence on swing tunes during this phase of his career when trying to "push" it. It's no wonder - this was Hawkins's first recorded appearance in the States following five years in Europe and here he was, face to face with two tenor men who had started to take his place as trendsetters. Cole is in particularly good form on this session as well, and his various snare drum clicks and clacks complement the scores and goose the band.
After Clyde Hart's short but intriguing piano intro, Hawkins regained his wits and weighed in with some typically rhapsodic and brilliant playing as he set out the melody of one sweet letter from you. Benny Carter frequently asked the question: Who were Hawkins's role models? It's always worth remembering that he single-handedly created the vocabulary for the jazz tenor saxophone. Yes, Louis Armstrong helped transform his concept of a coherent improvised solo, but the saxophone vernacular was Hawkins's contribution. He is said to have been inspired by Art Tatum's harmonic sophistication and chromaticism as well, but that doesn't lessen the mystery of his genius. And Hawkins's influence was not limited to the likes of Berry, Webster, Evans and the others who sprang so clearly from his example; Lester Young must also be counted among those moved profoundly by Hawkins, for it is fair to assume that it was Young's desire not to sound like all the other Hawkins men that helped motivate him to find his own voice. Ever growing, ever listening, Hawkins always had something new up his sleeve to throw off his disciples. You can hear one of his new wrinkles in the fourth measure of his last eight bars here - it still raises eyebrows today. Charlie Christian accompanies Hampton's vocal with some country twanging that recalls one of his mentors, the Texan Eddie Durham. For whatever reason, Hampton made an effort to reign in his idiosyncratic diction and actually creates a lovely vocal moment during his bridge when he gives the high note rhymes ("fair" "care" "line" "sign") their consonant value and adds some vibrato. Hart returns for a short interlude before Hampton's closing bridge, followed by the brief reemergence of Carter leading the ensemble before Hamp takes it out.
Much has been made about Hot mallets since it contains the first Dizzy Gillespie solo that he himself felt represented his nascent discoveries and moved away from the Roy Eldridge style he had been cultivating since 1937. It starts with a quote from cheek to cheek, with the lyrics being "Heaven, I'm in heaven," and continues into a fresh sounding solo marked by long, flowing phrases notable for their chromatic nature. Equally notable is Carter's bridge, which ends with an offbeat note shadowed by a Cole clack. But the real honors for risk taking go to Berry, who pulls off the most relaxed and flowing tenor solo of the entire date, peppered with dissonances that are even more off-the-wall than Gillespie's. The root of the tune is Hinton's steadily ascending and descending bass line (the same concept as the April sextet session) which continues for the entire performance, breaking off only during the bridges. This sounds very much like a head arrangement worked out at the session. Again, there was time for another two choruses. Wishing that great works of art could have been something else is a futile game, but given this personnel, one can only imagine what a chase chorus of the saxophones would have resulted in.
early session hop was recorded the previous July by Teddy Wilson's band and contained a jumping Ben Webster solo. This one is good too, but something about it seems slightly unhinged. Webster, who just months later would metamorphose into the silkily smooth swinger and romantic balladeer of Ellington fame, is still a work in progress here. The real star of this performance is Cole, whose swirling cymbals, off-beat bass drum work, in addition to the previously noted clicks and clacks, are the very definition of swing. Carter takes the bridge of Hampton's chorus (with the same Cole underlined last note as the previous tune), and the record ends with a sustained low note from Hart that makes one think that they didn't want the session to end. Although not featured, the pianist's mere presence on these sessions was clearly an inspiration to everyone.
(n) October 12, 1939
Hampton's original, I'm on my way from you, starts with the New Orleans trumpeter Red Allen getting an entire chorus to himself with no interruption from the leader -- and what a chorus it is. One of the most abstract improvisers in jazz (as Don Ellis noted in the '60s) he makes the eccentric octave displacements of his second eight bars seem perfectly normal, as do the crying tones and odd rhythms of the bridge. We hear the equally sophisticated work of this halfway new rhythm section in their even accompaniment to the vocal. Artie Bernstein was a lawyer-turned-bassist with a huge tone and good intonation (he played in the Goodman band with Hampton and Christian), and Sid Catlett was simply one of the music's greatest minds. Hear the way he sneaks his ride cymbal in behind J.C. Higginbotham's solo, as well as one of his patented and perfectly placed back-beats during Hampton's bridge before he reverts to his trusty snare drum for the last eight.
Haven't named it yet is credited to Hampton and Christian and is just a series of riffs over a pleasant chord sequence which the band turns into a minor masterpiece. After the first chorus, Hampton leaves the horns alone for once and they are given the chance to create and sustain their own internal frame of reference which turns into a hot house of superior solos. Christian kicks it off with one of his long-lined efforts that straddles the bar line in an equally challenging but different way than Allen, whose bridge lays on intervals that many thought and still think came into jazz with Gillespie and Parker. Higginbotham and Allen went back to the great Luis Russell band of the late '20s and worked together in the Henderson and Armstrong bands before forming their own small band in 1941. The trombonist was at his best during the late '30s and early '40s and his work here has the rural flavor married to a highly developed technique that made his style indelible. His bridge is taken by alto saxophonist Earl Bostic, making his recording debut. He was one of the great virtuosi of jazz saxophone, who never received the acclaim he deserved in the jazz world; his deep immersion into R&B in the late '40s didn't help matters. John Coltrane and many other young musicians played in the Bostic band and learned from him. And then there's Catlett. During the course of this performance, he gives us a virtual history of jazz drumming from the Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton styles of the '20s (hear the tom-fills in the last bridge) to the art-deco hi-hat work to the odd bass-drum accents and the alternation of snare derived and cymbal derived choruses. Everything comes together in the last eight bars which is as exciting as jazz drumming gets.
The heebie jeebies are rockin' the town gives the rhythm section a chance to shine with a panoply of sounds from Christian, rock solid walking by Bernstein, transparent comping from Hart, and Catlett making an entrance worthy of Ethel Barrymore with sweeping brushes behind Bernstein's short interlude after the vocal. The only solo is a half chorus by Higginbotham and Hampton, who plays over the band's closing riffs.
(o) october 30, 1939
Hart was listed on the session's logs and he may have helped organize the head arrangements as well as written the modest sketches that appear on the third and fourth titles. the munson street breakdown is another light boogie shuffle, and it's instructive to hear how guitarist Al Casey, drummer Slick Jones (both from Fats Waller's band) and bassist Bernstein follow Hart's left hand in a totally different fashion than the Reuss, Hinton and Cole team did the previous spring. Hampton's opening two chorus solo (following an interesting introduction) is more melodic than usual and contains a number of felicitous turns, mostly built around flatted fifths and sevenths. Jerome splits a chorus with Toots Mondello, whose rarely heard clarinet solos sound more "jazzy" than his alto ones. Elman pecks out a chorus before leading the closing ensemble riffs, over which Hampton, switching to the vibes, blows.
I've found a new baby is dominated by Hampton's piano, which is back in its scalar/arpeggio mode. Hart spices things up with whole tone harmonies during the bridges. Elman gets one solo chorus sandwiched in-between the piano.
Hart sets I Can't get started with some simple yet lush backgrounds, and if you listen carefully you hear Casey strumming an obbligato off mike. Again, Hampton only permits one other brief solo and it's Elman taking the first bridge. He gets credit for staying far away from Bunny Berigan's interpretation, which was already quite well known by this time. Hampton was always an interesting ballad player and there are sections of this solo that are quite touching.
four or five times is a highlight of the session and shows what a good arrangement that takes advantage of the individual voices at Hampton's disposal can do. The tune had been quite popular in the late '20s, especially after Jimmie Noone and Earl Hines recorded their classic version in 1928. As on most of the other sessions, the hi-hats are not only featured but put way up in the recording balance. Jones has nice flow to his. Hart has his best moments on this tune with some beautiful fills behind the vocal and a thinking man's solo. He was also responsible for the simple but effective modulations before the vocal and after the vibes solo. Webster's cheering tenor solo contains a few of the ideas that Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips and others would exploit relentlessly a few years later. The vocal/trades and alto solo are also worth mentioning.
gin for christmas is abugle call rag variant with Hamp wailing away on the drums and clearly pushing every one to swing. Elman, Webster, Mondello, Jerome, Casey, Hart and Bernstein all play before the extended drum solo (Bernstein seems momentarily lost but quickly regains his bearings). As Elman helps whip the band into a lather, we hear Hamp shouting from the drums and there's an extra climactic chorus added. During the 78 era when these recordings were made, jazz fans were hungry to hear on disc the sound of surprise they heard in the clubs and ballrooms; that rarely happened because recording was such a controlled procedure. They loved moments like these. More than any other item in this collection, this track brings to mind Louis Armstrong's memories of Hampton's enthusiasm when he was his drummer at Frank Sebastian's Cotton Club in Los Angeles in 1930. "And Lionel was so young and vivacious (still is) on those drums. And he had taken to like me (personally) so well and I felt the same way about him. And he was one of the swinginest drummers I have ever seen and heard in my life. And he was playing some little bells which he kept beside his drums. And he was swinging the hell out of them too - like I had never heard in my life before. Right then and there I predicted that someday Lionel would go places in the music world. Lionel used to get so enthused over my playing trumpet he would get soakened wet. And beat a whole gang of drums, saying to me 'WA-WA'WON'MO'POPS - meaning 'one more chorus', especially on tunes like 'Tiger Rag', and 'Ding Dong Daddy', and me enthused over him being enthused - would play chorus after chorus - I went up to forty one night."
(p) december 21, 1939
For the second consecutive time, we have a session producing three sides followed by one with five - strange. But there is nothing strange about this music, and it is one of the highlights of the entire series. For starters, Coleman Hawkins is not only in superb form, but his rich tone was captured in all its complexity by the Victor engineers. Then there is the rhythm section which, it's fair to guess, had never played together before but which immediately coalesced into a unit as precise and swinging as the April '39 Hart/Reuss/Hinton/Cole combination. Pianist Joe Sullivan was firmly ensconced in the so-called "Chicago" school of jazz, which in reality was just young White musicians making their own variations on Oliver, Armstrong and Beiderbecke, but which was receiving quite bit of press in those days. Sullivan may have been influenced by Earl Hines (as was Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Jess Stacy, Nat Cole, just to name a few) but he, like they, found a way to use it as an inspiration for his own creativity, One of the joys of listening to Sullivan at his best is hearing him walk the high-wire he strings for himself. Freddie Green was a member of jazz's outstanding rhythm section of the time (Basie's) and a superlative ensemble musician. Bassist Bernstein, as previously noted, had a big tone and solid intonation. If his lines weren't as melodic as Milt Hinton's or Israel Crosby's, he was certainly an asset to any band for the sheer oomph he generated. Zutty Singleton was no less than one of the progenitors of jazz drumming. In the 1920s, he was Louis Armstrong's drummer of choice, and it's one of the shames of early jazz that the relatively basic recording techniques of the day were unable to fully capture what both he and Baby Dodds did every night on the gig. Many early "trad" drummers tried to copy what they played on those 1920s recordings, without realizing that what they were hearing was just a shadow of what Dodds, Singleton and their peers actually sounded like.
Benny Carter played the trumpet with the same ease, if not the same technique, with which he played the saxophone. New Orleans was the home of both Zutty Singleton and clarinetist Edmond Hall, who gets the short end of the (licorice) stick, being granted only one duet passage and no solos. A few years later he came into his own as a respected stylist. Just a week earlier, Carter, Hawkins, Sullivan and Bernstein had recorded an all-star session as The Varsity Seven (for Eli Oberstein's Varsity label), which also may account for the high level of cohesion.
The session starts out with some real dynamite. dinah is kicked off by a Hampton introduction that quotes buddy bolden's blues (possibly in honor of his Crescent City guests). After making a brief nod towards the melody, Carter launches into his opening solo chorus. A key ingredient in playing jazz is listening. In the same way that a good conversationalist knows how to stop and let others speak and then react to what has been said, jazz musicians have the ability to carry on conversations with others. Carter shows this ability when he gets to bridge. Sullivan begins to outline the harmony with a descending line which is no sooner stated then embraced by Carter and woven into his solo. Hawkins was also listening to this, as we'll see. Everything is made to sound fresh and new by the clearly defined beat that the rhythm section is producing. They achieve a synergy, each hitting the same quarter note at precisely the same split-second. Moreover, they do it so sparely that it gives any one of them the opportunity to make a comment that has no chance of being lost in the shuffle. Contrast that with many post-1940s rhythm sections which have so much going on at the same time that nothing can be heard and/or prioritized. Hear how this unit, because of the open space they leave, gives the soloist a wide berth to create rhythmic, harmonic and/or melodic dissonances that mean all that much more because of the open horizon behind them. Just a moment before Hawkins enters, Sullivan hits a short but pointed tritone in the lower register that sets the tenorist off into a dissonant phrase. If these men were sharpshooters, they could have ruled the wild Wild West, so quick are their responses. A life-long devotee of Bach's music, Hawkins uses the piano's descending notes on the bridge to create his own chromatic fantasy - this is truly one of his greatest solos on disc. Sullivan was not deaf to recent developments in jazz piano, and the backing he uses for Hampton here (and also played behind Lester Young just a week earlier on a Billie Holiday recording session) reflects an awareness of the possibilities of pianistic pointillism as popularized by Count Basie. Hampton concludes with two choruses, of which the bridges are among his most inspired creations. The rhythm section really kicks in without the slightest feeling of strain or tension. Singleton spanks every other fourth beat lightly, and listen for Bernstein's skipped note (this was a trademark of Walter Page, Basie's bassist and Green's mentor) and Green's immediate response at the end of the last bridge. The alternate take is equally inspired, with all the soloists staying close to grids they established on the issued take. Of course, it could be the other way around, since we don't know which was recorded first, but in any case it's a good example of mature players having a strong matrix in mind before improvising.
my buddy is a WWI vintage tune just made of jazz with a spare melody and attractive chords, and must have been a favorite of Hawkins and Carter (on trumpet), who had recorded it two years earlier in Netherlands. Hall gets his only outing on the date, playing an obbligato to Hawkins's crooning, who glides into superlatively relaxed solo with a sustained note that is thrilling in its organic nature. Always a contrapuntalist at heart, Hawkins weaves Sullivan's "tenor" or "thumb" notes (as they're known) instantaneously into his solo line. Even his breaths are rhythmic if you listen carefully for them and it sounds as they he could have easily sailed into another chorus or two. The leader takes twice the solo space allotted Hawkins and plays over the stilted band figures.
Singin' the blues is a missed opportunity, given the company. Burdened with a pedestrian arrangement, the cooperative magic that ennobled the first two tunes was denied. Both Carter (subbing for Don Redman, who was back home in Virginia for his father's funeral) and Hawkins had been in the Fletcher Henderson band in 1926 when they battled Jean Goldkette's band, making their New York debut at the Roseland Ballroom. By all accounts, the combination of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer and Bill Challis's arrangements caught the Henderson band with their proverbial pants down, and it was a lesson they never forgot. A few years later, Henderson's band paid homage by recordingsingin' the blues in a version based on Bix and Tram's classic 1927 recording. So just imagine what might have happened here with Carter and Hawkins reflecting on that recording here, 13 years later. But it wasn't to be, and we can at least take solace in the beautiful tenor playing under the closing vibraphone solo.
(q) february 26, 1940
The last of the band dates prior to the forming of own band brings the series full circle, reprising the instrumentation of the very first Victor session with sidemen (mostly) from the Goodman band.
shades of jade brings Toots Mondello to the forefront. Known primarily as one of the definitive lead alto men of the big band era, he was accomplished not only on the clarinet (as we have heard) but on other reed instruments as well as the flute. What is lesser known is his stature as a composer. This piece is rather modest essay compared to his works in the classical genre, which included many etudes and orchestral pieces. When I interviewed him for the Smithsonian Institution's Oral History Project in the early '90s, Mondello took me to a closet in his small apartment in the Whitby Hotel (where he had been since Franklin Roosevelt was President) and showed me dozens of neatly bound black books which contained his complete oeuvre. Some of his peers knew about this aspect of his talents, but many never put the composer Nuncio Mondello together with their friend Toots. One of the last times I saw him was in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera, where he was resting on his way backstage to play in the offstage band in Alban Berg's Lulu. Here we hear his pure, singing sound leading the reeds with occasional comments from a muted Elman that seem like an afterthought. Budd Johnson (playing with ¾'s of the Goodman reed section) and Spencer Odom return from the previous Chicago session. Guitarist Ernest Ashley (whose only other known sessions were with vocalists Big Joe Turner, Melrose Colbert and Lord Essex - he also led his band The Three Naturals around Chicago) joins Goodman's bassist Artie Bernstein and drummer Nick Fatool in the rhythm section. Hampton follows the saxes opening chorus, inspired buy the unusual chord sequence, and the rhythm section's shift into 4/4 time, with Bernstein switching from arco to pizzicato. Elman translates the last bridge into Yiddish before Hampton noodles over the saxophones to a close.
Up until this point, Hampton seems to have gone out of his way not record numbers that he had had already done with Goodman, since they were under contract to the same recording company. Now that Goodman was with Columbia Records, he was free to compete, so we have this second tune that he had recorded just a few weeks earlier with the Goodman Sextet. till tom special is nothing more than a repeated arpeggio based on a half-diminished chord, with the addition of a few backgrounds and a closing line adapted from Eddie Durham's topsy. Budd Johnson gets a chance to stretch out and while what Eddie Durham said about his fellow Texan "he never had his own style" may be true, he nonetheless had a distinctive voice and at his best could be an enthralling, if derivative, storyteller. This chorus is one of his best of the era. Hampton follows, with a bridge by Buff Estes, who seems to be a Charlie Barnet man, with a slight dose of The Six Brown Brothers thrown in. flying home had been introduced by the Goodman Sextet the previous summer, and had already been recorded by the Will Bradley/Ray McKinley band by the time Hampton got around to putting this sketch of his desires for the tune on wax. Already in place is the opening tenor solo (a middling effort by Jerry Jerome, who sounds uncharacteristically uninspired on this session) and some of the shapes of the rolling riffs that would eventually morph into one of the classic big band arrangements of the era. There is something lackadaisical about this session in comparison with the others in this series that makes one think that Hampton was saving any strong full band performances for the debut of his own organization. Indeed, it was only five months later that he left Goodman to form his own working band.
save it pretty mama was an odd choice, given that it had lain dormant since the late '20s, when Armstrong immortalized it. It's possible the publishers were pushing for it, since Armstrong remade it a few months earlier, and Sidney Bechet would make his own version for Victor in the same Chicago studio later in 1940. We have a string of solos from Mondello, Elman (getting back to his jazz roots) and the leader. Pianist Odom's solo comes as a pleasant surprise, naturally echoing Earl Hines, who was still the king of Chicago jazz piano and who had played a by now classic solo on Armstrong's original version; indeed, he and Jess Stacy sound surprisingly alike. Odom's fills are also worth noting for their welcome counterpoint. tempo and swing is named, I believe, for Mrs. Hampton's dogs. Another string of solos, this time over i got rhythm , it features Johnson, Mondello, Jerome, Estes and the leader before Elman blasts it home. Most noteworthy is Fatool's strutting snare drum work, which really kicks in behind Hampton and blazes through to the end. Titles like this, which, while perfectly respectable performances, indicate Hampton's lack of control and/or interest, in maintaining any sort of musical philosophy beyond wind 'em up and watch 'em go. We hunger to hear the Hampton who contributed so brilliantly to the Goodman small group recordings.
(r) may 10, 1940
We are in a new universe. For the first time in the series, we encounter the very best of Lionel Hampton. Buoyed by one of the finest jazz rhythm trios in the world at the time, he is the model of restraint, taste and humility. This was the first major label session for the King Cole Trio (previous work had been for small, local labels and transcription services) and it's hard to imagine a better showcase for their talents, save a Cole vocal. Al Spieldock was married to Goodman vocalist Helen Forrest at the time, and keeps up admirably in very fast company. He later settled in Baltimore, where he continued to play and teach. Guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince had been with Cole since 1937 and the three of them developed an approach that was theirs alone. In it we find the genesis of not only the Oscar Peterson Trio, but many other piano/guitar/bass combinations, from Art Tatum's on down. It went beyond just the choice of instruments. Cole and Moore perfected a way of accompanying each other without the clashes (usually harmonic, but frequently textural as well) that have marred so many piano and guitar collaborations. As we encounter them here in the Spring of 1940, they are miles ahead of any other rhythm section, presaging where the jazz rhythm section was to go over the next decade. Cole, just barely in his twenties, had managed to assimilate all of the jazz piano innovations of the preceding decade, from Earl Hines (who Cole always cited as his primary influence) to Teddy Wilson, Count Basie and Tatum. While facets of their styles were audible at times, Cole had already found his own voice. His accompaniments were equally forward looking, and would work as well today as they did when Wendell Willkie was presidential timber. Moore had started on the acoustic guitar and had already perfected a fluid and quite sophisticated melodic approach before switching to the electric in the wake of Charlie Christian, which helps explain why he didn't imitate the latter as much as most of his peers. Like Cole, he also created many different angles from which to approach accompaniment; this session with a guest of Hampton's stature lets us hear both Cole and Moore pull out all the stops, doing things that wouldn't make sense when it was just the two of them comping for each other. Bassist Prince, unlike the other two, did not have much of a subsequent career after the dissolution of the original trio, but by the quality of his work here one must place him among the premier men on his instrument at the time. As we have heard on the previous sessions, bassists who could create melodic lines were rare, and in addition, Prince, day to day, had to generate what musicians call his "hump" (rhythmic propulsion) without the aid of a drummer. He certainly helps Spieldock here immensely. In his invaluable notes to The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Nat King Cole Trio (Mosaic), Will Friedwald writes that both Prince and Moore had come to Cole through a Hampton recommendation, making this debut session all the more appropriate.
The trio had recently landed back in LA from their first trip to New York, where they gained invaluable experience backing Billie Holiday, and also had a successful Cole homecoming in Chicago. house of morgan may refer to Hampton's family, since his uncle Richard Morgan, was Bessie Smith's last manager and husband, and was driving the car when she had her fatal accident in September 1937. The tune itself is a themeless set of variations on the first half of sweet georgia brown - that's all there is to it. This simple structure creates the basis for a series of complex solos, each creating dissonance in a unique fashion that make for fertile contrast with each other. After his brief introduction, Hampton launches into a solo that is devoid of virtually all of the devices that have filled the majority of recordings in this series. Here we have true improvisation bouncing off of the spontaneous stimuli provided by the band who in turn are responding to Hampton. There are some delicious moments: for example, where Moore seems to start his solo only to retreat as Hampton continues and integrates the false entry seamlessly. When the guitar finally gets his space, Cole lays out, creating a spacious texture of just bass and drum accompaniment (lovely Spieldock brush padding). The piano solo ends with some parallel intervals that have a vaguely Eastern sound, which Hampton instantly turns into a slightly dissonant version of rhapsody in blue - this is quicksilver thinking and a sterling example of Hampton's harmonic ingenuity put to its best use. One of the most enjoyable attributes of this performance is the lack of the kind of forced climax that concludes so many of the previous titles.
What a joy to hear Mrs. Spieldock away from her usual big band setting, fitting so naturally in this relaxed and intimate atmosphere.Ii'd be lost without you was written by George Forrest and Robert Wright, who, over the course of their 72 year partnership, wrote always and always, at the balalaika, the frog and the grog, as well as Broadway's grand hotel and the adaptation of Borodin's themes in kismet. Prince's long and in-tune bass notes provide a solid cushion for everyone, and both Hampton and Cole contribute masterful melodic paraphrases for the opening chorus. As on the preceding title, Prince makes a gentle switch from two to four that gives the performance shape. A vocalist couldn't ask for a better accompaniment than Forrest receives here; it's active but firmly in the background. The simple octave riff with which Hampton codifies what will be the closing four bars is worth the price of admission alone. When he was in the right setting, he could be the most subtle of musicians.
central avenue breakdown is a salute to what was the 125th Street of Los Angeles. What might have been just another aimless Hampton piano feature is turned into a dynamic performance with shape and meaning. This comes largely from the backing he receives from each of the rhythm instruments. Whereas the other pianists who had to back Hampton confined themselves largely to oom-pah left hand, Cole digs in with riffs and other figures that alternate and sometimes merge with Moore, who himself is switching back and forth between straight time, riffs, and other phrases. Prince is again the bedrock of the band, with a phenomenal moment at 2:31 where he ascends to the high register. Caught in the middle of this maelstrom, Spieldock keeps solid time, plays some fills, and doesn't get in the way. Hampton rises to the heights with this kind of background and comes up with one his best-ever piano spots.
jack the bellboy has all the hallmarks of a King Cole Trio performance - a smart arrangement full of surprises, with Hampton going customarily berserk on the drums. This is the sort of drumming that was big in the '20s before men like Webb, Krupa, Catlett and others began to leaven purely mechanical playing with colors, textures and rhythms that afforded greater variety in the narrative. Every time Hampton gets behind the drums to solo, he pretty much hits everything as fast as he can. In person, it could be quite entertaining. One of the best and, sadly, still rarest examples was captured in 1929 by Vitaphone in Harlem Mania, starring the Norman Thomas Quintet with a bizarrely fascinating drum solo by someone who looks very much like Kid Lips Hackett, a rarely chronicled but legendary show drummer of the era who was famous for his outrageous showmanship. He gets up from behind the drums, rolls around the floor, hits everything he can, and swings all the time without losing the beat. Hampton and Sid Catlett were just two among the many influenced by this sort of performance, an understanding of which helps place pieces like this in context.
(s) july 17, 1940
Cole's trio had from the very beginning a predilection for this sort of jive tune. As Will Friedwald noted in his Mosaic-Cole notes: "Some of the unison vocal style had been handed down to the trio from earlier vocal-instrumental combos like the Cats and The Fiddle, who are directly represented in the King Cole discography . The trio's occasional early use of spacey, almost randomly harmonic vocals and nonsense content came to them from Slim and Slam, from whom they also gleaned some of their subject matter. The King Cole Trio doubled as a vocal trio to more effectively "sell" the punch lines of novelty numbers especially at the beginning of their recording career. Trio vocals dominate the group's 1938-1941 transcriptions and commercial sides; of their 16 Deccas from 1940 and '41, only four feature Cole's strictly solo singing." dough-rey-mi fits right into this genre. What distinguished this trio's approach was the musical intelligence they brought to their arrangements. Hampton plays on top of what was a trio arrangement and enters into his solo with an odd note that almost sounds as if he thought there was an interlude coming. By the time of this session, Hampton had been with Goodman for almost four years and played thousands upon thousands of tunes with not only the leader, but also with improvisers of the caliber of Teddy Wilson, Dave Tough and Charlie Christian. This is the reservoir of experience he is bringing to these sessions. Goodman had many musical traits; one was driving some of his small group sidemen to distraction with his noodling behind them when they were soloing. Sometimes it could fuel a polyphonic fire, and at others it could be simply distracting. Unfortunately, here we get some of the latter when Hampton chatters along with Cole and Moore - he is also way up in the balance which doesn't help matters. But that is a small price to pay for music of this high quality. The newly discovered alternate sounds as if it were recorded first, given Prince's uncharacteristic hesitations going from section to section in the first part of the tune and Hampton's missing of a few cues. He lays out behind the piano and guitar to good effect but, in general, there is a slightly tentative and rushed quality, and it's good that they did it again.
Jivin' with jarvis was a well deserved salute to Los Angles radio announcer Al Jarvis, who was a tremendously innovative and influential media personality during the '30s and '40s. His show consisted of playing recordings surrounded by canned applause to give the impression that they were live. Martin Block, who was also doing radio in LA at the time, took the idea to New York without crediting Jarvis and started The Make Believe Ballroom. A serious jazz lover, Jarvis promoted and played a large role in Goodman's initial West Coast success in 1935. He was also a major supporter of Hampton and Cole during their West Coast days at a time when black artists found it very difficult if not impossible to get significant exposure on commercial stations. Hampton was quoted as follows: "He would let the black musicians all come do interviews on his radio show. He was very liberal about that. He gave blacks a lot of play." Jarvis also played a significant role in the Inter-Racial Film and Radio Guild, which was dedicated to protecting the interests of minorities in the entertainment industries. Cole was a regular guest on Jarvis's show and would occasionally play as well. Hampton uses much more space than usual and seems to be playing on top of the trio, joining in for riffs, and essaying a lovely, floating feeling. Both Cole and Moore were enamored of Lester Young, and you can hear echoes of him throughout their solos, especially in their entrances. Eight measures before the last vocal riff they also invent what became the patented Oscar Peterson/JATP rhythm section mode, only here it is used tastefully and as just one color in their palette.
Cole had distinguished himself while still in his teens in Chicago, and his band recorded under his brother Eddie's name in 1936. On those sides, Nat sounds very much like his mentor Earl Hines, which makes his playing just four years later on blue because of you all the more amazing, given its association with Hines's band. The sparseness of his comping to Hampton is a delight to hear, as is his solo, which alludes ever so slightly to Hines with a handful of tremolos. Moore's role is almost sub rosa, coming to the fore only at the tail end. Airy, light, effortless - these are terms that come readily to mind when hearing music like this, making them all the more rare in the Hampton discography.
i don't stand a ghost of a chance with you benefits from Cole's sensitive harmonization. Like Tatum, Bill Evans, John Lewis, Monk and other piano leaders, he made sure the harmonic grid was firmly in place so the band would have something to build on as opposed to the "cross-your-fingers, let's see what happens" school. Hampton eats the chords up. His use of tremolos is rare and brings to mind Red Norvo, as does the sophistication of the setting. Forrest goes for broke in her last eight measures with a brave (for her) departure from the melody - too bad she didn't do more work like this! She had listened closely to Billie Holiday when they worked together with Artie Shaw's band in 1938, and unlike Peggy Lee at times, had the good taste not to indulge in imitations.
(t) august 21, 1940
Hampton chose a variant of the Spirits of Rhythm, a popular Harlem combo that recorded prolifically in the mid-'30s, for his next session. Known for their combination of tipples, guitars, novelty tunes and group vocals, the Spirits played a kind of music that was immensely popular in urban African-American neighborhoods. After the departure of Leo Watson, who was the Charlie Parker of the idiom (he played drums, trombone, and created some of the most free-wheeling scat vocals ever conceived - if you play his jingle bells at Christmas time, you won't need any eggnog to get a buzz), the other members began to float, winding up in this configuration which Hampton found enticing enough to bring into the recording studio. At the root of their sound is Douglas Daniels's tipple, a ten-stringed instrument that was a cousin of the ukulele. It's not that it's out of tune exactly, but with tipple and guitar, there's bound to be some intonational friction, and that's part of the charm. Both Daniels and guitarist Teddy Bunn were long-time members of The Spirits, and the latter recorded on many classic sessions with Ellington, Bechet, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds and Red McKenzie, for starters. Hayes Alvis was one of the prime pre-Blanton bassists and had been part of Ellington's two-bass team from 1935-8. Pianist Marlowe Morris was making his recording debut here. He later made a splash as an organist, but in the '40s he was one of the best young Tatum disciples and can be seen in the classic 1944 Jammin' The Blues. It's a joy to have yet another pillar of early jazz drumming join the Hampton small group roster: Kaiser Marshall powered the Fletcher Henderson orchestra in its early days of glory (1923-30). Here he plays nothing but brushes with a quiet but insistent beat.
just for laughs is a pleasant if predictable ballad played over the tasteful five- man rhythm team. The previously unissued alternate take finds the fuzz still on the peach, with the leader and Bunn in a more spontaneous mood, though the piano is too low in the balance. On both takes Marlowe throws in runs that can be found in the contemporaneous piano work of Nat Cole, Nat Jaffe, Thelonious Monk and Ken Kersey, all of whom were finding new paths.
martin on every block was another tune named after a powerful disc jockey, this time Martin Block, who was the preeminent East Coast radio voice for swing music during its heyday. Based on a simple riff, it somehow lingers, which is undoubtedly what they had in mind! Like the Hart/Reuss/Hinton/Cole rhythm section, these men figured out a way to get on the same part of the beat together and the effect is subtle but thrilling nonetheless, especially when Marlowe gooses things going into the second eight bars of Hampton's first solo. The alternate, although played at the same tempo, feels just a hair faster and just that much less groovy.
pig foot sonata is the highlight of the session, with its retro feeling and slightly askew chord structure. There's something about the tune that has the taste of the '20s about it, and that, along with the rocking boogie bass and Daniel's relatively primitive tipple, gives it a unique profile and charm.
charlie was a sailor is one those ditties about a sailor and undoubtedly had many more verses that would have been deemed "blue" at the time. Though it's a slight piece at best, it takes us right into the small nightclubs where bands like this (minus a star like Hampton) played to much laughter and gaiety. Before leaving this session, the superb blend of the rhythm section, both in timbre and time is worth acknowledging once again.
(u) december 19, 1940
This is the first session with personnel taken from the first Hampton big band and marked the recording debuts of four major talents: Ray Perry, Sir Charles Thompson (he has been suggested as pianist on a Horace Henderson session a few months earlier), Irving Ashby and Vernon Alley. Marshal Royal was already a mainstay of Los Angeles bands and had served a short stint with the Ellington band in 1934. Lee Young was Lester's younger brother and was already on his way to a career in the recording studios, first as a player and then as an executive.
lost love, written by George "Red" Callendar, a superlative bassist who had known Hampton during his West Coast years, has a good opening chorus by Hampton and the rhythm section before the desultory vocal chorus starts. It's not that it's bad or out of tune (although the girls have a flat quality and Lee Young does a pale Crosby imitation very much like the Benny Carter of synthetic love) but it is blatantly commercial and incongruous with the series up to this point. Hampton's co-composer credit introduces one of the least savory elements of his long band leading career. Most of his peers (Ellington, Goodman, Basie, James, Dorsey, Calloway, Webb - the list goes on) were not above intruding on a composer's sole credit in exchange for recording his piece. But the culture that Hampton and his wife Gladys created went far beyond the pale. It's ironic that Goodman, for example, had a reputation as a petty and at times insensitive skin-flint that has persisted for the two decades since his death. He was Mother Teresa compared to Hampton, whose management lent money to his sidemen at exorbitant rates, pulled all sorts of chicanery regarding purchasing of uniforms, hotel rooms, etc., and other violations of professional courtesy, including requiring playing overtime for no extra pay. Charles Mingus was only the most prominent ex-Hampton sideman who went on record decrying Hampton's refusal to record his work unless he got a cut. Then there is an oft-repeated, seemingly exaggerated claim that playing in Hampton's band actually killed drummers. In late 2007, Junior Mance recalled the fate of his friend Ellis Bartee, who became ill and eventually died as a result of trying to keep up with Hampton's maniacal demands for loud, insistent backbeats. Don't laugh - there is a long list of distinguished drummers -- from George Jenkins to Frankie Dunlop-- who retired, quit, or whose health declined after Hampton got through with them. Yes, of course, they could have quit, and many did, but others it seems couldn't resist the challenge and ultimately failed. Are they equally to blame for their demise? Yes. But it also speaks to the humanity and musical taste of Hampton, and since this is the birth of his second and most successful stint as a bandleader, it has a place in this narrative.
i nearly lost my mind opens, like the previous title, with a relaxed Hampton exposition of the melody, with a bridge by Royal, whose general attack and phrasing is reminiscent of Artie Shaw's at times. The vocal chorus is distinguished by Thompson's adventurous fills. Here the pianist reveals a love for Teddy Wilson and Tatum that he later sublimated into his own sparser, Basie-inspired style. The piece ends abruptly.
altitude is a simple riff tune (with an interesting turn-around at the end of the bridge) which introduces Ray Perry's violin. By all accounts, he was an inspired soloist whose real talents were never adequately captured on disc. Trombonist Henry Coker told the English trombonist Don Lusher: "I was with Illinois Jacquet in '51. He had about eight pieces-a very good, swinging group. We had a violin and saxophone player in the band named Ray Perry-the greatest. He was something else, man. It was very hard to have to play a solo after him. He had so many tricks on violin. I never wanted that spot. He was one of those guys who could play just as much alto." John Lewis, who worked with Perry in Jacquet's band a couple of years earlier was another proponent of his playing. The brief glimpses we get of Perry bear their encomiums out. Slam Stewart also credited his patented "sing-along" style to Perry, having heard the violinist sing along with his solos in the mid-'30s. Ashby has a thinner tone than Christian and Moore but fits in nicely; he would later replace Moore in Cole's trio. The out chorus riff comes right out of the Artie Shaw's Gramercy 5.
Fiddle-Dee-Dee is an attractive minor-keyed riff, and Perry wastes no time as he launches into his opening chorus, shared with Thompson and Ashby. The leader is oddly uninspired, relying on some of his more hoary riffs before the run of the mill ending.
(v) december 20, 1940
Bogo-Jo is one of those "title means nothing" swing tunes that were all the rage in the wake of Slim and Slam's flat foot floogie. Ashby channels Charlie Christian before Hampton and Perry have their short solos. As a period piece, this is harmless enough, but it seems especially light-weight in comparison with the all-star masterpieces that dotted the previous sessions.
open house has an exquisitely paced eight-bar solo by Perry that seems to inspire Thompson. Royal and Hampton complete the chorus. What is missing is any overarching conception. The solos follow with no relationship to each other. Alley, who became a mainstay in San Francisco until his death at the age of 89 in 2004, has a walking solo that reveals an awareness of what Jimmy Blanton was doing with the Ellington band.
smart aleck is basically open house faster, with a different chord sequence and longer solos. Ashby starts his with a quote from Ben Webster's cottontail solo, which was hipper than hip in late 1940. Chorus follows chorus until a riff ends it.
Hampton returns to the piano for a boogie bouncing at the beacon, and Thompson relieves the tedium with comping that is similar to Cole's. Perry's alto has a classical tinge to it, made all the more intriguing when he moans some down home riffs in the out chorus, which are the most interesting element of the recording.
(w) april 8, 1941
There's an intensity here missing in the December sessions. The band was in the midst of their first hit engagement, a few weeks turned into a few months at Chicago's Grand Terrace Ballroom. The session benefits from the fact that the band had been together for five months and that the drummer is one of the giants, Shadow Wilson. The vocals place give me some skin firmly in the "zoot suit jive" genre. The synergy between Wilson, Thompson and Perry drives things and gives Hampton something to respond to. He rises to the occasion, as he usually did. The tune was co-written with pianist/organist/bandleader Tiny Parham, who was a large presence (literally and figuratively) in Chicago jazz from the mid-'20s until his death three years after this session.
Now that you're mine is an above average ballad that lets us hear Karl George's superb trumpet. Like Mouse Randolph, he came from St. Louis, the home of a proud trumpet tradition based on tonal quality that extends from Charlie Creath to Russell Gunn. George was a rare bird; as good on lead trumpet in a big band as he was in small group setting. Known for his work with Basie, Stan Kenton (the first black member of that band), he inspired George T. Simon to write in the May 1942 issue of Metronome: "They don't make first men any finer than Karl George. The man has a wonderful tone, marvelous conceptions, fluent range, and plays right in tune. (he) deserves one rave after another for his consistently fine performances." Vocalist Ruble Blakey is musical and phrases with feeling and restraint - hear his gorgeous "though we have long been apart" phrase, colored with a subtle change of tone. He can also be heard on a 1945 Don Byas date and has a featured vocal in the film Sepia Cinderella (1947). After spending time in Europe singing and eventually as a booking agent, he returned to the US and died in 1992 at the age of 81.
Chasin' with chase is the last, the most technically impressive, and the most musically vapid of Hampton's drum features. It truly sounds like circus music. This sometimes thrilling and sometimes frustrating series comes to an end with the superb three quarter boogie (which coincidentally shares the same pickup notes with my last affair). Wilson paces everything with his relaxed brush and cymbal work, leavened with a few well placed accents. Hampton has a chorus with a Perry bridge - to bad the latter didn't get a chance to stretch out on these sessions. The proximity of trading fours between George and Royal forces them to relate to each other and it's a joy to hear. Note that Wilson's brief break ends with a flourish, a pointed rejoinder to Hampton's showing off. The alternate is just a bit faster but just as good, though the drum break behind Hampton is muted.
Loren Schoenberg is Executive Director of The Jazz Museum in Harlem, and plays and teaches jazz internationally. He is also the author of The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To Jazz.