Lionel Leo Hampton was born circa 1908. Noone is quite sure where he was actually born but Louisville, Kentucky is oft cited. His father was killed in World War I and the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama where his grandmother raised him until his family settling in Chicago in 1916. Lionel learned to play drums at school and was taught by a Dominican sister at the Holy Rosary Academy, Wisconsin. There he played fife (flute) and drums. Later as a teenager he took xylophone lessons and drum instruction from Jimmy Bertrand. He joined several boys’ club bands whilst attending St. Monica's School in Chicago. He left school to sell papers and became a member of the Chicago Defender's Newsboys Band playing the snare drum. Circa 1927, aged approximately 15, Lionel was asked to join Reb Spikes’s Sharps and Flats in Los Angles, and soon found his talent in great demand. He played drums for the Dixieland Blues-Blowers, made his first recording with The Quality Serenaders led by Paul Howard, then left for Culver City and drummed for the Les Hite band at Sebastian's Cotton Club.
By 1930 Lionel had started playing the vibraphone and when Louis Armstrong heard him he insisted the vibes man accompanied him on some studio work. At this time Lionel Hampton did some work with Nat Shilkrer and his orchestra and attended classes at the University of Southern California to study music. In 1936 Benny Goodman was introduced to Lionel Hampton and so impressed with his work he asked him to join the Benny Goodman Trio making it a quartet. (Teddy Wilson (piano), Gene Krupa (drums), Lionel Hampton (vibraphone) and Benny Goodman (clarinet)). The Benny Goodman Quartet began to challenge the big bands and came to represent the first racially integrated jazz group. Lionel made his reputation as a swing musician with Benny Goodman and arguably his best soloist works were recorded between 1936 -1940 which included "Dinah," "Moonglow," "My Last Affair," and "Exactly Like You."
Whilst still with Benny Goodman, he continued to record with several different small groups known as the Lionel Hampton Orchestra as well as assorted small groups within the Goodman band.
In 1940 Lionel Hampton eventually left the Benny Goodman organization to form his own band. The Lionel Hampton Orchestra was very popular during the 1940s and early 1950s and produced a classic version of "Flying Home" (1942) which featured a delightful solo by Illinois Jacquet.
Many believe this recording paved the way for Rhythm & Blues. Two years later he recorded "Flying Home, Number Two" which featured Arnett Cobb.
Billy Mackel (guitar) joined the Orchestra in 1944 and stayed with them until late 1970s. Until the early 50s Lionel’s band merged jazz with rhythm & blues and The Lionel Hampton Orchestra included many star performers including composer and bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington and keyboardist Milt Buckner. Other noteworthy performers in the orchestra included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham and Snooky Young, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Jerome Richardson. The orchestra toured extensively including Europe in 1953. During this tour, Scottish Jazz singer Annie Ross (sister of Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan) sang.
He also undertook many "goodwill" tours to Japan, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East. During this time, he made a large number of television appearances and attracted a huge and enthusiastic international following. By the 60s the popularity of the big bands had dwindle and whilst he continued to record he no longer was the crowd puller he once was. Lionel continued to perform at many jazz festivals and concerts and remained active until a stroke in 1991 led to a collapse on stage. As a composer and arranger, Lionel Hampton wrote more than 200 works and composed the major symphony called "King David Suite."
He established two record labels, his own publishing company, and he founded the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation to build low-income housing in inner cities. As an educator, he began working with University of Idaho in the early 1980s. In 1985, the University named its jazz festival for him, and in 1987 the University's music school was named the Lionel Hampton School of Music. Lionel Hampton passed away in 2002 but the popularity of his swing music continues to this day. He appeared in Pennies from Heaven (1936) with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.
Worth a listen
Flying Home (1942) Big Band version
Hamp’s Boogie Woogie
Flying Home 2 (1944)
Evil Gal Blues (1944)
Benny Goodman Quartet
Sunny Side of the Street
Central Avenue Breakdown
My Last Affair
Exactly Like You