HAMPTON, Lionel: Air Mail Special
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LIONEL HAMPTON Vol.2
'Air Mail Special' Original Recordings 1937-1946
The exuberance and excitement and feeling of exultation that Lionel Hampton contributes to anymusical occasion with which he is associated are absolutely amazing. No other single performer inAmerican jazz - and in American big bands, too - has so consistently and joyously incited andinspired his fellow musicians and listening audiences. - George T. Simon
No less a virtuoso of piano and drums, LionelHampton has long been a synonym for jazzvibraphone; and while he may not have beenquite the first to experiment with thatinstrument in a jazz context, he certainlyinvested it with the life's breath of Swing andBlues and spawned a new tradition ofvibraphonists. Celebrated during the Swing Eraas a bigband sideman, and latterly thespontaneous showman par excellence of jazzbandleaders, multi-instrumentalist LionelHampton was born into a middle-class family inLouisville, Kentucky, on 20 April 1909. Hischildhood was spent in both Louisville andBirmingham, Alabama, and from 1916 he livedin Chicago with his grandparents who sent himto the Holy Rosary Academy in Collins,Wisconsin, where he was taught the rudimentsof drumming from Sister Petra, a Dominicannun. Later, he attended St. Monica's Catholicschool in Chicago and gained his first afterhoursdrumming experience at local gigs.
After his grandmother's death, Lionel wastaken under the wing of his jet-setting uncleRichard Morgan. A successful bootlegger in thepay of Al Capone (who was, as Hamp himselfrelates, via the work generated by hisspeakeasies, 'the saviour of the black musiciansin those days'), Morgan bought him drums andgenerally encouraged his musically precociousnephew. Lionel soon became a member of theChicago Defender youth band, a classicalorchestra which modelled itself on the ChicagoSymphony and there 'got ear training' from itsorganiser Major N. Clark Smith, a notededucator under whose tutelage he also studiedtimpani and xylophone. In 1924 he ventured toHollywood and there, to supplement his at firstmeagre income from music, he took a menialjob in a drugstore in Culver City, adjacent to theMGM film studios. By providing after-hoursentertainment for movie stars, however, he wassoon mixing in the right musical circles andaccording to his own account made his firstrecordings that same year, in Los Angeles, at aReb Spikes' Legion Club Forty-Fives session.
Over the next five years Hamp establishedhimself in professional circles in and aroundL.A., gigging regularly in various \territory"bands, notably those led by Spikes, CurtisMoseby and Paul Howard (with whose ninepieceQuality Serenaders he recorded, ondrums, for Victor, in April 1929). By that yearhe was also drumming with Louis Armstrongand at a mid-1930 Armstrong recording sessionfirst featured the vibes which, legend has it, hehad found lying around in the studio. By 1930,Hamp had decided that the Quality Serenaders'weren't playing [his] kind of music'. He wantedto swing and, in collaboration with theSerenaders' leader (his old friend from Chicago,Santa Monica-born alto-saxophonist Les Hite,1903-1962) set up a resident band atSebastian's Cotton Club in Culver City. Until1932 Louis Armstrong also worked regularlywith this band, which interspersed dance musica la Gus Arnheim's Coconut Grove Orchestrawith hot jazz numbers. There, drummer Hampfirst began to feature vibes seriously and wonrecognition for the new jazz instrument via aseries of promotional shorts.
From 1935 Hamp led his own band inCalifornia and early the following year, throughrecording guru John Hammond, was introducedto Benny Goodman. Hamp played, at firstinformally, in various small groups led byGoodman (he would continue to play andrecord with Goodman ensembles until 1940)and in mid-1936, while still leading a nine-pieceat the Los Angeles Paradise Club, rocketed tofame when, at Goodman's invitation, his"vibraharp" became the latest addition to theby now famous Trio. Hamp made his firstrecords with Goodman, Krupa and pianistTeddy Wilson in Hollywood, on 13 August 1936and their outstanding success led to Hamp'spermanent membership of Goodman'sentourage. A key figure in the evolution ofSwing, after making his official debut withGoodman in New York (at the PennsylvaniaHotel, on 21 November) he became a regular ofthe Goodman Sextet and, after Gene Krupa'ssudden departure in 1938, often sat in with theGoodman big-band.
Hamp's association with Goodman led toan RCA-Victor commission to make his ownsmall-group recordings. Featuring availablemusicians ad hoc from Ellington and other'visiting' big-bands, Hamp's own first efforts inthe genre are jazz classics. Bright gems in thediscography of Swing they comprise an excitingif predictable mixture of pyrotechnic hot jazznumbers and mid-tempo commercial standardsand indeed several titles, from 1937 onwards,earned the equivalent status of US popular Top30 'hits' (included is The Jumpin' Jive, anestimated No.15, in 1939). Hamp's musicalstanding assured by his small band records(rivalled in these only by Teddy Wilson andEllington), in 1940 Hamp quit Goodman toform his own big band. From its inception thistoured extensively and was by 1986 the longestsurvivingoutfit of its kind. By 1942, via discalone, its fame was already established by thesheer energy of Hamp's own formulaic creation'Flying Home' (featuring Hampton and IllinoisJacquet) and this was soon followed - notwithstandingthe engineers' strike - by other notableearly landmarks, including Hamp's BoogieWoogie (1944) and Air Mail Special (1946).
Peter Dempsey, 2005"