February 11, 2020

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The Early Years of Lionel Hampton- African-American Jazz in California

February 10, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: The Early Years of Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton began his career playing drums for the Chicago Defender Newsboy Band. During the mid-twenties he moved to Los Angeles and began making a
name for himself as an outstanding drummer. He recorded with Reb Spikes and Paul Howard and most significantly joined the Les Hite Orchestra at Sebastian’s Cotton Club.

It was with Hite that Hampton became a local star. The band worked nightly and fans would flock to the Cotton Club just to see Hamp put on a show at the drums.
In 1930 Louis Armstrong played an extended engagement at Sebastian’s with Les Hite’s band as his accompaniment. Armstrong recorded several sides for Victor with Hite during his stay. At one of the sessions Lionel Hampton started fooling around with a set of vibes that was in the studio. Louis heard him and ask him to play it on the recordings. It was the first time the vibes were used on a jazz record and "Memories of You" became a hit.

By 1936 Hamp was leading his own groups around Los Angeles and continuing to play the vibes. He was working the Paradise Cafe while Benny Goodman was nearby at the Palomar Ballroom. John Hammond had heard about Hamp and went to the Paradise one night to see him. He was so impressed that he convinced Goodman to come by after the last set at the Palomar. Goodman loved what he heard and brought Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa with him the next night. They jammed on stage for hours and after that Goodman was sold. He wanted to add Hamp’s unique voice to the small group.

The Goodman band was scheduled to record during their stay at the Palomar and Hamp was asked to join them. He recorded with the big band and the quartet and also took part in a date under the leadership of Teddy Wilson.

From that point on, through the rest of the thirties, Hamp travelled the country with the Goodman band. It was historical and extremely important because the addition of Teddy
Wilson and Lionel Hampton to the Goodman band made them a racially integrated ensemble. They broke the color barrier in music and paved the way for others to follow.

Lionel Hampton became a huge star with Goodman and appeared on countless recordings, radio broadcasts and motion picture appearances. At the end of 1940, with Goodman’s encouragement Hamp decided to form his own big band. He came back to Los Angeles and put together a band featuring the cream of the crop of young west coast musicians:
Marshal and Ernie Royal, Dexter Gordon, Jack McVea, Sir Charles Thompson, Joe Newman, Karl George and Illinois Jacquet.

The Lionel Hampton Orchestra became one of the most popular big bands during the swing era and had one of the periods biggest hits in "Flying Home." Hamp led a big band for the rest of his life and garnered innumerable awards and accolades. His band was a training ground for an incredible array of jazz musicians over the years.

He was a true jazz immortal whose career began right here on the west coast.