WITH POWER TO SPARE: LIONEL HAMPTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA (1947-48)

The publishers of the Dutch jazz magazine and CD label DOCTOR JAZZ don’t overwhelm us with issues, but what they offer is rare and astonishing. First, they offered  a two-CD set, DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, which contained previously unheard Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lester Young; Don Redman and Cab Calloway soundtracks from Max Fleischer cartoons; Lionel Hampton on the air; Jimmie Lunceford transcriptions; unissued alternate takes featuring Frank Newton, Bobby Hackett, Adrian Rollini, “The Three Spades,” Spike Hughes with Jimmy Dorsey / Muggsy Spanier; Charlie Barnet; Earl Hines; Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers; Frank Trumbauer; Joe Venuti; Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald; Paul Whiteman; Jack Teagarden; Bob Crosby featuring Jess Stacy; Billie Holiday; Raymond Scott Quintette; Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins in Europe.

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Their new issue, “THAT’S MY DESIRE,” is exclusively focused on the 1947-48 Lionel Hampton big band, and offers seventy-nine minutes of previously unheard (and unknown) aircheck material. Eighteen of the performances come from November 2-30, 1947, at the Meadowbrook in Culver City, California; the remaining four originate from the Fairmont in West Virginia, on June 29, 1948.

The songs are RED TOP / THAT’S MY DESIRE / HAWK’S NEST / VIBE BOOGIE / MUCHACHOS AZUL (BLUE BOY) / GOLDWYN STOMP / LONELINESS / HAMP’S GOT A DUKE / MIDNIGHT SUN / GOLDWYN STOMP #2 / MINGUS FINGERS / OH, LADY BE GOOD / RED TOP #2 / CHIBABA CHIBABA (My Bambino Go To Sleep) / ADAM BLEW HIS HAT / I’M TELLING YOU SAM / PLAYBOY / GIDDY UP / ALWAYS / DON’T BLAME ME / HOW HIGH THE MOON / ADAM BLEW HIS HAT #2

These are newly discovered airchecks, and Doctor Jazz tells us, “In this period the band was musically very creative and a tight musical aggregation. The Hampton band was one of the top jazz bands in business. In this version we hear a young Charles Mingus performing his ‘Mingus Fingers’. We don’t know who recorded these acetates, but our ‘recording man’ was very active at that time (1947-1948). He recorded a lot from the radio and may have had some other sources where he could dub then rare recordings. In 2013 a building contractor worked on an old abandoned Hollywood house in the Hollywood Hills and discovered a storage area that was walled off and filled with several wrapped boxes of acetate records. Among them these Hampton acetates. They are now carefully restored by Harry Coster and released for the first time. The CD contains a booklet of 32 pages including photos and a discography.”

Collectors who know airchecks — performances recorded live from the radio or eventually television — savor the extended length and greater freedom than a band would find in commercial recordings of the time. And the sound is surprisingly good for 1947-48, so the string bass of Charles Mingus comes through powerfully on every cut even when he or the rhythm section is not soloing. Another young man making a name for himself at the time is guitarist Wes Montgomery, and the West Virginia HOW HIGH THE MOON is a quartet of Hampton, Mingus, Wes, and pianist Milt Buckner (although Wes does not solo on it). Other luminaries are trombonist Britt Woodman, trumpeter Teddy Buckner; tenor saxophonists Johnny Sparrow, Morris Lane, and clarinetist Jack Kelso take extended solos as well.

The Hampton aggregation, typically, was a powerful one. If the Thirties and early Forties Basie band aimed to have the feeling of a small band, Hampton’s impulses led in the other direction, and even in these off-the-air recordings, the band is impressive in its force and sonic effect. Hampton tended to solo at length, although his solos in this period are more melodic and less relentless than they eventually became. The rhythm section is anchored by a powerful drum presence, often a shuffle or back-beat from Walker.

It is not a subtle or a soothing band, although there are a number of ballad features. What I hear — and what might be most intriguing for many — is a jazz ensemble attempting to bridge the gap between “jazz” and “rhythm and blues” or what sounds like early rock ‘n’ roll. Clearly the band was playing for large audiences of active dancers, so this shaped Hampton’s repertoire and approach. It is music to make an audience move, with pop tunes new and old, jump blues, boogie-woogie, high-note trumpets, honking saxophones, and energy throughout. As a soloist, Hampton relies more on energy than on inventiveness, and his playing occasionally falls back on familiar arpeggiated chords, familiar gestures. He is admirable because he fit in with so many contexts over nearly seventy years of playing and recording — from Paul Howard in 1929 to the end of the century — but his style was greatly set in his earliest appearances, although he would add a larger harmonic spectrum to his work.

The Meadowbrook personnel (although labeled “probably”) includes Wendell Culley, Teddy Buckner, Duke Garrette, Leo Shepherd, Walter Williams or possibly Snooky Young, trumpet; James Robinson, Andrew Penn, Jimmy Wormick, Britt Woodman, trombone; Jack Kelso or Kelson, clarinet; Bobby Plater, Ben Kynard, Morris Lane, John Sparrow, Charlie Fowlkes, saxophones; Milt Buckner, piano; Charles Mingus, string bass (Joe Comfort or Charles Harris may also be present); Earl Walker, drums; Wini Brown, Herman McCoy, Roland Burton, the Hamptones, vocals.

For the 1948 West Virginia airchecks, Jimmy Nottingham is the fifth trumpet; Lester Bass, bass trumpet; the trombones are Woodman, Wormick, and Sonny Craven; the reeds are Kynard, Plater, Billy “Smallwood” Williams, Sparrow, Fowlkes, with the same rhythm section.

The good people at Doctor Jazz don’t offer sound samples, but having purchased a few of their earlier issues, I can say that their production is splendid in every way: sound reproduction of unique issues, documentation, discography, and photographs. So if you know the Hampton studio recordings of this period and the few airshots that have surfaced, you will have a good idea of what awaits on this issue — but the disc is full of energetic surprises.

May your happiness increase!

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