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Lionel Hampton was one of the more colorful and effervescent band leaders of the big band era. What made Lionel stand out  more than anything else was his incredible ability as a jazz vibraphonist. Totally self taught,  Hampton reached a level of skill that allowed him any tune in his own unique inimitable style, described as the ideal cross between swing and jazz.

 

 

Born into the poverty of the Deep South of 1908, the Hampton family  decided that life in the big city in Birmingham, Alabama  might provide better opportunities for Lionel and his siblings. It was in Birmingham that Lionel’s musical tastes began to develop, enjoying an initial bout a brief flirtation with the xylophone, before deciding that playing the drums was much more to his taste.

Lionel Hampton took his first steps in his professional career as a drummer during the  "Roaring Twenties"  working  with a number of small and unknown bands, playing and learning in small town saloons and night clubs up and down the West Coast of America

 

 After a few years working the circuit,  Hampton’s budding career earned a major  push through when he was signed as drummer for the Les Hite band, certainly  the biggest and best known bands he had ever appeared with.

From then on in it  was only to get better for Lionel when he  formed a friendship with   a young singer and trumpet player by the name of Louis Armstrong who was also a member of the Les Hite band. Louis had aspirations to make his own music, and he asked Lionel to unearth his xylophone skills to accompany him  for a couple of numbers to see how it sounded.

Armstrong was truly impressed with “Hamp’s” skill on the xylophone, and pretty soon they became the first choice of instrument.  Les Hite was reported to have been equally impressed  and reported to have stated “ while  there were a lot of drummers around at that time, there was  only one jazz xylophonist.”

 

Under that  title, Hampton began to achieve fame and fortune, eventually forming his own orchestra which, although they  enjoyed a certain  success it was limited  to as audiences found it difficult to adjust to the band’s unusual sound.

 

However, just when things were beginning to stagnate a little for Lionel ,  lady luck would once again shine on him, when Benny Goodman, leading the most popular jazz band in the United States at that time, heard Hampton’s xylophone play and thought he could have a place in his band.

Surrounded by such quality musicians as Goodman, Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson, Hampton flourished as a musician and his ebullient style ideally complemented Goodman’s highly reserved demeanor at the front of the band .

Soon, Hampton had achieved the celebrity and recognition that he so merited, appearing alongside Goodman in films, appearing on a weekly  radio spot, and some say stealing the show from Goodman when the band played at their famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938,  by virtue of a tremendous solo performance on the xylophone.   

Thanks to this  run of success  Hampton   once again formed  his  own band, which he decided this time around was to be more of a celebration of music with featuring guest stars  such as Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Art Tatum,  Buddy Rich and occasionally playing alongside with his old friends Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.

This was the format that appeared to work well for Lionel, and allowed him to enjoy a long  and fruitful  career in the world of music.

Lionel Hampton, one of the most popular figures of the big band era, lived a long and healthy life, passing peacefully away at the ripe old age of 94 in 2002. 

 

Please take a moment to browse though the links below and pick out a particular Lionel Hampton rendition. It may be one that you may never have heard before and will give you a taste of the man's unique musical talents.

 

 

   
       
  Beulah's Boogie Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Blow Top Blues Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Flying Home Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Hamp's Salty Blues Listen to this song on You Tube  
  On the Sunny Side of the Street Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Pinetop Boogie Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Playboy Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Punch and Judy Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Ribs and Hot Sauce Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Screamin' Boogie Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Some Day you'll be Sorry Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Tempo's Birthday Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Two Finger Boogie Listen to this song on You Tube  
  Vibe Boogie Listen to this song on You Tube