Lionel Hampton and Stan Getz
Tower Records, one of the bigger music chain stores in the
states finally went belly up. They always had a decent selection of
jazz/classical and world music even for a snob like myself. There was one near
my home that I would poke around in when I did not feel like answering the
sweet siren call of the giant Virgin Records mega-store in the city proper.
When it was first announced that all Towers were closing, I went
in to see what deals there were to be had. Upon asking the cashier how long
they would remain open, I was told as long as there is merchandise.
It was also unstated but understood that the prices would continue to drop on
all products. I was lucky in that what I was after would remain until the last.
The final week of the stores existence had an air of a flea
market combined with a stock market crash or the sinking of the Titanic. Stuff
was all over the place, people seemed to be randomly grabbing things and
running towards the registers.
As stuff sold out, they would combine store sections and
products, closing off the now blank areas of the store. For my convenience, the
classical and jazz sections were now combined and squeezed into a corner. There
was small semblance of order as to what went where in this now musical hybrid
section. Everything was priced to move. I found a boxed set of Brahms
symphonies I had, had my eye on forever crammed into the Count Basie slot. I
also found a CD of Stan Getz playing with Lionel Hampton. I knew both their
works, and although I had a far from profound knowledge of either artist, it
seemed an odd team-up. Priced to move, I grabbed that too.
The difference between a vibraphone, xylophone and marimba is
fairly simple. Vibraphone came about around 1921 and has metallic keys and a
sustain pedal similar to a piano. Its keys are set up similar to that of a
piano too. Xylophone uses wooden bars and like the vibraphone has resonators
(vertical tubes below the keys) but no sustain pedals. Marimba has no sustain
pedals, sometimes no resonators and while it too uses wooden keys, it does not
possess as bright a sound as its Xylophone cousin.
Red Norvo (1908-1991) was jazzs earliest vibraphonist. He
started out on Xylophone/Marimba at the age of 14. Most of the tunes he did, as
indeed most of the tunes which utilized these instruments were pop-novelty
tunes. Aside from these short lived singles he also led a vaudeville act which
incorporated tap dancers and juggling. After cutting his teeth on this tour
circuit he joined the NBC Orchestra.
It was during this time he made two un-issued albums before
joining Paul Whitemans orchestra in the early 30s. It was here that
he met his soon to be wife, the singer Mildred Baily. Red and Mildred were
known as Mister and Misses Swing. He backed her on her early
records while also recording as a leader of his own ensembles.
It was not until the 1940s when joining Benny
Goodmans band that Red Switched to Vibraphone. It was also during this
time that Red became an early proponent of combining music which swung with
more complex arrangements which could prove just as satisfying to merely listen
to off the dance floor.
Red would swing back and forth from coast to coast never seeming
to get bogged down in label or genre concerns. It was this open eared
philosophy which allowed him to collaborate with the best of what was around.
While still with Benny Goodman he cut an album using a sextet among which was
both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Part of his bend too was forward thinking. He had a trio of the
then unique configuration of bass and guitar featuring two then little known
players Charles Mingus on bass and Tal Farlow on guitar.
He would tour the world, even backing Frank Sinatra. Despite all
the later accolades it is Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) who is considered the
first jazz vibraphonist. This was because, initially he had more
exposure to larger audiences.
Lionel started as a drummer in alto saxophonist Les Hites
band. They had a residency at Frank Sebastians New Cotton Club (L.A).
It was during a 1930 NBC Studio date with Louis Armstrong Lionel
took up the vibraphone after being asked by Armstrong if he could play the one
which happened to be laying around the studio. Having had experience with the
xylophone Lionel agreed to give it a try. They would go on to record several
successful albums together.
Although he would still play other instruments (drums and piano
which utilized a unique two finger technique) on record and stage it was
vibraphone and the way he made it swing that Lionel became famous for.
In the 1930s during a West coast tour John Hamond brought
Benny Goodman to check Lionel out. This was the start of the Benny Goodman Trio
with Teddy Wilson on piano.
Eventually Gene Krupa was hired on drums to make it into a
quartet. They were one of the first multi-racial groups to play before large
audiences. This band would expand further into an orchestra. Lionel would make
his own recordings often utilizing various configurations of band-mates he had
In the early 1940s Lionel set out to form his own band.
His band became a third ivy league university of jazz, enlisting all the greats
of the day who were not with Count Basie or Duke Ellington (sometimes actually
having former members of the other ensembles such as Charles Mingus who was
briefly also with Duke Ellington).
The pedigree of those who had passed through Lionels ranks
is impressive, including such jazz luminaries as Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin,
Illinois Jacquet and Fats Navarro.
Perhaps Lionels most famous composition was Flying
Home (1939) which featured an extended bar walking solo by Illinois
Jacquet which was a precursor to R&B.
Having started out at the age of sixteen, Lionel achieved many
accomplishments. He would star in several movies, compose scores too. He was a
member of Alpha-Phi-Beta, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity for
African Americans. At one point he served on the human rights commission in New
York while also having played for several U.S presidents including Harry
Truman. The United Nations further honored him by naming him Ambassador of
Music (1985). 1995 saw him being awarded the National Medal of the Arts.
I have a large music library and one thing I have always been
proud of is that every CD, one bought a decade ago, still means as much to me
today. Often too as times goes by I find new things to enjoy from an album as I
get into more of the people on the session who are the sidemen. I
will buy a Lee Morgan album to hear one of the best splatter school trumpeters.
As I listen, I hear the whole song but am zeroed in on him. Down the line I
will get into pianist Harold Mabern and realize I already have twenty albums he
is on. When this happens its almost as if I have just gotten twenty new
As much as I still enjoy all my old albums I do get caught up in
the quest, the constant search, not for novelty but exploration for its own
The advent of the net allows for obscure/deep music to be made
more available, if not always cheap, Japanese imports of all the cerebral
heavy-weights such as Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor et all can now be had.
Delving into these deep waters it is easy to forget the simple joy to be had
from hearing standards done well and with-in the confines of normal song
Lionel Hampton spent over half a century on the road. He was a
musician, but also an entertainer and to him such a label had no aspect of the
sycophant about it. What is interesting and fairly unique to the vibraphone in
jazz is there were no radical departures in sound or how it was played. Three
altos from various parts of the country or different generations would sound
drastically different, while the first three vibraphonists Red Norvo, Lionel
Hampton and Milt Jackson each had there own style, there was never any radical
departures. It really was not until Bobby Hutcherson that some new aspects of
the instruments possibilities began to appear.
Lionel played in ensembles of varying size, but he never had
artistic phases of drastically different sounds/feel/mission. Just good music
done for the enjoyment of all. Although of different eras he shared this in
common with Stan Getz (1927-1991).
Stan Getz was nic-named The Sound for his
rich-creamy tone. Only Stan Getz (and maybe, Zoot Sims) managed to sound
romantic, yet retain their coolness. One hand offering the girl flowers while
the other reaches for a drink. An urbane grace which also knows the blues.
Stan was a multi-instrumentalist who received his first
saxophone at the age of 13. At this young age he was accepted into band
leader/trombonists Jack Teagardens orchestra. From there he would work
his way through some of the best big bands the nation had to offer. Stan would
be employed by Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and as a featured
soloist for Woody Herman. Stans solo would contribute to a hit on Ralph
Burns Early Autumn(1949).
It was during these early years on the road and in the studio
too that Stan would face some of the same narcotic demons off and on over the
years, which seemed to plague many of the greats of jazz. When one takes this
into consideration along with his one pack a day cigarette habit and temper,
his tone and chops seem all the more impressive.
Propelled forward with this fame, Stan would now largely appear
as leader on recording dates and mostly the big band format would be pared down
to smaller, more modern configurations. He played with the whos who of up
and coming jazz.
The late 50s saw him move to Europe where he frequently
played with fellow expatriates and members of the European jazz community. It
would be several years before he would then return to New York. The late
fifties saw jazz in a great state of flux with the advent of Free-jazz, Modal
and Hard-Bop all emerging within fairly rapid succession of each other.
Guitarist Charlie Byrd returned from a state department
sponsored tour of South America. He brought back with him bossa-nova records,
the songs of Jobim, author of what are now many standards of the repertoire.
Stan Getz was instantly hooked on the infectious rhythms and the possibilities
of seamlessly merging a melancholy romanticism. Their first album together
introduced what would become a grammy winning huge hit, Desafinado.
Stan would go on to record another even more compelling album utilizing the
composer on piano and vocalist/composer/guitarist Joao Gilberto. This album
would spawn the huge hit Girl from Ipanema.
These two albums would guarantee steady financial rewards for
Stan for the rest of his life. The money made from these records and some new
standards for musicians, to now make their own, proved a powerful temptation to
lots of musicians at this time, the bossa-nova beat creeping into many
recordings. With the scent of money in the air, this then exotic/unique music
became watered down and homogenized for mass consumption. Soon every middle
class wood paneled rumpus room had muzak-tinged sambas and bossa-novas playing
as suburbanites enjoyed their cocktails.
Two interesting things concerning Stan Getzs bossa-nova
albums. He actually made many more both before and after the fact, but it is
these two albums the jazz lay-man knows him for. A brilliant career, fly-like,
trapped in amber. Also, although I had heard his bossa-nova albums, going back
and re-listening to them now, I discovered they were not even close to the
muzak inflected grooves I vaguely recollected. Talking to another jazz snob,
then having him listen, the same phenomenon was experienced. It was as if these
albums, which aside from being legitimate art are still a joy to listen to, had
merged with the identities of all the out right samba kitsch which would
The Hamp and Getz session was a 1955 studio session.
It came about when both Lionel Hampton and Stan Getz found themselves appearing
in the movie The Benny Goodman Story.
Stan had the big band background and Lionel Hampton had always
been progressive, with big ears. There was no hindrance connected with genre
The set is made up of mostly standards with one Lionel Hampton
original. There is a ballad medley, a device very much of Lionels
generation perfected by him and his peers, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, that
allowed these road warriors to give the audiences all the songs they came to
hear within the time constraints. The Autumn in New York section of the medley
achieves that subtle beauty one may encounter during a sun set or occasionally
from the city itself.
The whole band is good, no weak links. Lou Levy (piano) had
played off and on with the rest of the rhythm section on various dates and adds
a layer of depth to the over all sound without ever letting the listener forget
whose session it is. Such lack of ego would by the late fifties become rarer
when not involving boredom.
The drums have just the right amount of bounce to marry their
sound to that of Lionels vibes. Perennial West Coaster Shelly Manne was a
multi-instrumentalist (and club owner Mannes Hole). He would
be one of the first jazz cats to record what would become known as world
music. The knowledge he gleaned from having also been a leader in his own
right combined with techniques of multi-instrumentalist allowed him to appear
on recordings by players of all the various schools and never sound
out of place. Leory Vinnegar too had made cross genre appearances and his tone
here is warm and rock-steady without ever giving the feeling of just marking
Stan Getz, like Lionel never had drastic departures artistically
from what he did so well. The sizes of his ensembles would occasionally change,
but over all to know and enjoy one album by him is to know the body of work.
While his style and choice of solo statements remain totally his own, one does
detect an added Joie De Bleu during this foray with Lionel.
Lionel himself sounds fantastic. I much prefer him in smaller
settings. And beyond that, I much prefer him in such relaxed and swinging
setting. No gimmicks, no pressure, really allowing him to create a bright
The lead track Cherokee best illustrates this. What had by this
time become one of bops anthems here shines with a different
sophistication, without sacrifice of modern energy.
The CD has been remastered from mono tapes and includes two
previously unreleased tracks. The sound through out the CD is very good with
each track averaging about six minutes. There are some new liner notes along
with the original reproduced.
Music that one knows well and treasures can be an inspiration, a
comfort and sometimes even a friend. There is never anything wrong with making
a new friend.
Maxwell Chandler will return with more adventures in sound