HAMPTON, Lionel: Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
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LIONEL HAMPTON Vol.3
'Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop' Original Recordings 1941-1951
Although Lionel Hampton is best known for histrailblazing work playing vibraphone with BennyGoodman, equal credit should be given to hissuccess and staying power as a bandleader.
Beginning when he left Goodman in 1940,Hampton outlasted every other big band leader ofthe Swing Era, performing until shortly before hisdeath in 2002 at the age of 94. Almost asimportant as his work as a bandleader was hisability to spot and hire young talent for hisorchestra. The 1940s saw a veritable Who's Whoof jazz legends pass through his organization,including Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, JoeWilliams, Dexter Gordon, and Wes Montgomery.
Hampton would never have been a successwithout the help of his wife and business manager,Gladys. Gladys took care of the books, theaccounting, paying musicians, and even designingtheir attire, leaving Lionel to concentrate on hisperforming, songwriting, and arranging. It wasGladys who convinced Hampton to go out on hisown after he had been with Benny Goodman forfour years. In the fall of 1940 their plans tookshape, with Hampton moving to Los Angeles toorganize his band.
Gladys had realized that in addition to nothaving to compete with the likes of Duke Ellington,Cab Calloway and Count Basie in New York, theycould also get away with paying less in salaries foryoung West Coast musicians. This turned out tobe a brilliant move, for Hampton found aseemingly endless array of talented youngsterseager to get a break in the music business.
Rehearsing at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue,Hampton would further the careers of trumpetplayers Ernie Royal and Joe Newman, saxophonistsDexter Gordon and Illinois Jacquet, pianist MiltBuckner, and guitarist Irving Ashby.
By the end of 1941, Gladys had secured arecording contract for Lionel with Decca Records,and the band had its first session on ChristmasEve, producing a supercharged version of Nola, awarhorse written in 1916. Unfortunately, Hamptonwould have few chances to record before James C.
Petrillo's AFM strike paralyzed the recordingindustry the following July (he was able to wax hisfamous version of \Flying Home"). Hampton lostmany of his key musicians to the draft, but kept theband going. Gladys booked the group on toursthroughout the country, including some harrowingtrips into the South. The band grew, withHampton adding two singers (Rubel Blakely andMadeline Green) and comedian Slappy White.
One night in Chicago in 1943, Joe Glaser,Hampton's booking agent, told Lionel about ayoung girl singer performing at Garrick's Show Bar,a club frequented by sailors coming ashore fromwork on Lake Michigan. The singer, Ruth Jones,sang "Sweet Georgia Brown" and impressedHampton so much that after the show, he wentbackstage and hired her on the spot, changing hername to Dinah Washington, a name that had cometo him on the spur of the moment. Later thatyear, Hampton met songwriter Leonard Feather,who had written some blues songs especially forDinah to sing. In December, Hampton backedDinah with a sextet for Keynote Records, a smallindependent label in New York. Two of the songs,I Know How To Do It (featuring Hampton ondrums) and Homeward Bound are included onthis CD. The latter featured Hampton playing thetreble notes in a piano duet with Milt Buckner.
However, the Keynote recordings (which had beendone without Gladys' knowledge) violatedHampton's contract with Decca, resulting in a legalquagmire that did not get settled until 1945.
Hampton returned to the Decca studios inMarch 1944 with his big band, which now wasreflecting a subtle change in swing's direction, fromthe relatively staid, predictable approach of the waryears to a quirkier sound, heavy on the back beatwith elements of jump and bebop creeping in.
Songs like Loose Wig and Chop-Chop (with cowritingcredit going to Gladys Neal, his wife's namefrom a previous marriage) reflected this change,which was made to appeal more to black audiences.
Hampton said in his 1989 autobiography, 'I stayedin the black groove. You'd know my band wasblack just from listening to it. The crossover to thewhite audience hadn't happened yet'.
As the 1940s progressed, Lionel Hampton kepthis music exciting by infusing his swing with blues,Count Basie-style riffs, and boogie-woogie. Midwaythrough 1945, Hampton hired saxophonist HerbieFields, the first white musician in his band.
According to Hampton, 'When we performed onstage, he wore makeup to darken his face so hedidn't stand out so much. It was still unusual tohave an integrated band.' Fields' sensationalclarinet solo on Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop made him astar and he would leave Hampton the next year toform his own band. Hampton got his inspirationfor the song from a Helen Humes record, "Be-Ba-Be-Le-Ba," which had been recorded for Philoearlier in the year.
In May 1945, Dinah Washington cut anotherLeonard Feather blues, Blow-Top Blues, whichbecame her biggest hit yet. Despite being with theband for three years, Dinah wasn't happy aboutthe infrequency of her vocals, so despite having hersalary raised from $75 per week to $125, she leftthe group in the fall.
Perhaps harkening back to the exciting times ofthe Benny Goodman Quartet, Hampton recordeda brief session with a quartet, featuring pianist DanBurley, guitarist Billy Mackel, bassist Charlie Harris,and drummer George Jenkins. We've includedthree superb tracks from this session: the drivingChord-A-Re-Bop, Hamp's Salty Blues, andLimehouse Blues, the latter a throwback from theGoodman years.
Alto saxophonist Ben Kynard's ReminiscingMood shows Hampton using unconventionalchords found in records by Dizzy Gillespie and StanKenton. A sure sign that Hamp was heading in abebop direction was in his 1947 recording of thebebop anthem, How High The Moon, again with aquartet backing him up (listen for quotes fromseveral bebop classics, including "Groovin' High",whose chords are based on "How High the Moon",and Charlie Parker's "Ornithology"). Later thatyear, Hampton recorded his own soon-to-bebebop classic, Midnight Sun, in an arrangement bySonny Burke.
In 1948, Hampton discovered a vocalist toreplace Dinah Washington, and one who couldsing bebop as well. Betty Carter was then anaspiring eighteen-year-old singer from Flint,Michigan named Lorene Carter who had sat in withCharlie Parker and other bebop musicians.
Hampton hired her and nicknamed her 'BettyBebop'. Betty Carter recalled, 'Hamp used to askme which band I liked better, his or Dizzy's. Iwould say Dizzy's and he'd fire me. GladysHampton loved my work and had a funny feelingthat I might do something. Every time he'd fire me,she'd rehire me. He fired me seven times and Istayed with the band two-and-a-half years.'Hampton's last session for Decca came in1949, with his cover of the western swing hit, RagMop. After this came a label switch to MGM, forwhom Hamp continued his strides into R&B andeven attempts at early rock and roll. It showedthat through the years, Lionel Hampton could glideeffortlessly from genre to genre, still retaining thegenius that made him a jazz legend in every era inwhich he played.
Cary Ginell - a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/DeemsTaylor Award for music journalism"