Friday, November 9, 2012

Wailin' with Hamp

Lionel Hampton runs through a few two-fingered piano riffs prior to a show in the late '50s.
Photo from "Hamp," his autobiography

Barry O snags a
second shot.
The re-election of President Barack Obama reminds me of a time when I was directly involved in presidential politics, and that spurs me to offer this recording by the great Lionel Hampton. The connection may be a stretch, but I'll go with it since it's nice to have a logic (however contrived) behind these musings here on Gems.

In 1970, I worked for the late Senator George McGovern's presidential campaign, going door to door in the Syracuse, NY, region in an effort to get out the vote. Like many college kids from that era, I was firmly against the war in Viet Nam and believed that George would end it once elected. My canvassing partner and I were assigned to one of the poorer neighborhoods and the work was anything but easy. People answered our knocks – when they answered at all – with half-opened doors and suspicious looks. Nobody wanted to hear us talk about the Senator from South Dakota; they just wanted to get the two white kids from somewhere else off their front porch. 

Lionel Hampton chats with Richard M. during a visit to
the White House in 1970.
The experience impressed upon me just how complex the American political landscape can be. Another example could be found in Lionel Hampton's very public support for former Vice President Richard Nixon, McGovern's opponent. Back then I was just beginning to explore this music called jazz, and the idea that someone of Hamp's stature could support a war-mongering honky square like Tricky Dick just defied all logic. Of course, my eighteen-year-old political reasoning was anything but nuanced. But I really had trouble getting my head around the fact that a jazz giant was embracing a guy who seemed to be against everything that jazz stood for.

Of course, McGovern went down in one of the worst defeats anyone in a presidential election has ever experienced. Nixon went on to run afoul of the Watergate caper and also came up a loser. Our bumper stickers in Boston read, "Don't blame me – I'm from Massachusetts." 

But Lionel Hampton went on to play music for another three decades, swinging just as hard as he ever did. He was clearly a survivor, and that spoke volumes about his decision to go with the Repubs. That and the fact that his politics were pretty conservative to start with.

There's nothing political about this posting. It's just Hamp and the guys blowing for a rowdy crowd at a dance at Chicago's famed Trianon Ballroom. This is how live-in-concert recordings should sound – the crowd is vociferous, hip and paying attention. And Hamp and his men rise to the occasion. No great soloists here – Jay Peters and Jay Dennison are featured, and neither is exceptional. But they have a grand time and, if you can overlook Dennison's repetitious "Casbah stuff," you will too. And Hamp's solo turn on "Stardust" is worth the download all by itself.

As always, these tunes were ripped from the original vinyl, in this case a mono veteran of many years of repeated playings. There was a lot of surface noise that had to be cleaned up, so you may notice some minor digital artifacts here and there. But play it loud, roll back the rugs and pretend you too are at the Trianon ...

Wailin’ at the Trianon
Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra

Hampton, vbs; Billy Brooks, Wallace Davenport, Ed Mullens, Roy Slaughter, tp; George Cooper, Al Hayse, Harold Roberts, tbn; Jay Dennison, as; Bobbie Plater, fl, as; Edwin Frazier, Jay Peters, ts; Oscar Estell, bar; Dwike Mitchell, p; Billy Mackel, g; Peter Badie, b; Bill Eddleton, d.
Trianon Ballroom, Chicago, IL; July 22, 1954; Columbia CL1711

1. The Chase  12:05
2. Stardust  6:34
3. Mark VII  5:28
4. How High the Moon  8:58
5. Love for Sale  5:39
6. Wailin’ at the Trianon  6:17


  1. Hey David,

    What a treat! After being spurred to revisit Hamp's Victor Recordings from 1937-1941 (thank you to Phil Schaap for playing these sessions for a few weeks in a row on his Traditions in Swing Show) I am excited to hear some of his big band recordings. I appreciate your timing and, as always, your great taste in sharing more great music.

    All the best!

  2. Many years ago I had this LP in the Columbia Red Sealed Series.Indeed,a true live session in a ball.Pure Hamp at his best.Thanks.

  3. Glad you're enjoying this one. The fans clearly loved Hamp on the South Side of Chi, and it shows. I can't help but wonder if the vociferous lady in the audience isn't the legendary Gladys Hampton herself. One of the jazz guys I knew several decades ago here in the Catskills work briefly in Lionel's band and he said Gladys was a real trip -- and very tight with the money! By the way, JC, did you hear any of Brother Phil's recent Bird Flights? The "Broadway Open House" TV show clip of Bird accompanying a tap dancer knocked me right on out!

  4. Yes, I have been listening to the recent Bird Flights. Those recordings from "Broadway Open House" are something else. The banter from the hosts, the tap dancer (as you pointed out), the accordion player/leader of the house band, and, of course, Bird, has been entertaining. While the amount that Bird blows is minimal, he still gets some solid licks in. Of course, as Phil always says, any amount of Bird's genius is worth hearing and, generally, I agree. I hope you are doing well and thank you again for the great blog!

  5. Happy Thanksgiving! One thing I'm thankful for this year is discovering this blog. All the best!

  6. Thanks, JC. Same to you and yours. Glad you're enjoying this effort. Watch for another posting soon!