|A TRIBUTE TO LIONEL HAMPTON Carnegie Hall-July 1'78 by Robert Palmer
Lionel Hampton celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as a jazz performer in style at Carnegie Hall the last weekend of the Newport-New York Jazz Festival. The big band that backed him through most of the concert played with more fire and more precision than all-star aggregations usually manage to muster, and the well-chosen soloists were almost unfailingly attentive to the idioms at hand.
One says "idioms" advisedly, for Hampton's contributions to jazz have been unusually varied. As vibraphonist with the Benny Goodman quartet during the thirties he spun out warm, lyrical improvisations on ballad changes. As leader of some of the finest small recording bands of the thirties and early forties, he consistently put together first-class personnels— one group included Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Chuck Berry and Charlie Christian—and then managed to dominate them with his unflagging rhythmic verve and sheer good humor. His big hands of the forties were a different proposition;they led the way in the transition black popular music was undergoing, from slicker, more urbane jazz styles to the rawer sound and heavier heat of rhythm-and-blues. Hampton's celebrated "Flying Home" has even been called the first rock and all record. Hampton's concert was a well-organized retrospective of all these facets of his career. Teddy Wilson showed up for some light, elegant recreations of the Benny Goodman quartet, with Bob Wilber playing fluent, understated clarinet and the supercharged rhythm section of bassist Chubby Jackson and drummer Panama Francis kicking things along. Hampton played beautifully on these tunes—his forte has always been rhythm, and w hen he works with fairly rich chord changes his rhythmic gifts are cast in a, particularly attractive light—but the real star was Wilson, who seemed to he in a particularly good mood and injected a great deal of passion into his bubbling solos, along with his customary suave control.But it was the big hand music from the forties that drew the biggest response from the audience, and justifiably so. The orchestra really played the charts brilliantly, with the rhythm section—Ray Bryant on piano instead of Wilson—churning deliriously underneath bright, jabbing horns. The trumpets were spectacular both collectively and individually. At one time or another, all four of them—Doe Cheatham, Cat Anderson, Joe Newman, and Jimmy Maxwell-made Stirling solo contributions, with top honors going to Cheatham for a breathtakingly deft bit of doubletiming on blues changes and to Anderson for taking his high note work into harmonic and timbral areas normally reserved for the avant-garde.Ray Bryant turned in some fine, rich playing as well, but the sparkplug of the band, at least as far as this listener was concerned, was Arnett Cobb, who replaced Illinois Jacquet in the Hampton ensemble of the forties and made some wonderful records with Hamp, most notably "Cobb's Idea," before going on to work with his own groups. These days Cobb mainly performs around his home town, Houston, Texas. He was in a bad automobile accident a few years ago and walks on crutches, but he doesn't need any crutches when he plays the tenor. He has that big, swaggering, grainy Texas sound on the tenor, and he has a control of the horn's textural resources that is just about unparalleled. During a single phrase he will begin sounding like Coleman Hawkins, pass through an Archie Shepp coloration and end as velvety as Don Byas on a ballad.
He constructs solos economically and intelligently, contrasting massive, blocked-out phrases with delicate runs and sudden rasps and honks, and he invariably builds to powerful, roaring climaxes. Whenever he began to play, a broad grin spread across Mr. Hampton's face. Both men know their jazz, and both love to really dig into the blues.
Throughout the big hand set, which eventually built up to a marathon "Flying Home" that should never have ended, women in the audience were waving their arms in the air, bounding up out of their seats, and squealing with delight while the men finger-popped and clapped their hands. Surprisingly, only a few of these people seemed old enough to remember the big hand era. Most of them were young, and they were responding naturally to the roots of so much of today's music. It was a pleasure to be part of a jazz event that had an abundance of both improvisational ingenuity and sheer danceable drive. The combination is a rare one these days, and there is no other kick quite like it.