Written by Fantasma el Rey
From the third wave of the Jazz Icons series Lionel Hampton: Live In ’58 is a jumpin’, jivin’ romp through some of the best jazz/swing by one of the best ever. By 1958 you might expect Hamp to be outdated as rock ‘n’ roll had been ripping the scene apart for just about five years but he brings his “A” game and puts on a hell of a show. Hamp leads his band with the fire and fury of a young man. Even though he is fifty, he shows that you’re never too old to swing. And Hamp would do just that, well into his later years he was still “Flying Home” with the same pace that he drove in his prime.
Recorded in Belgium, Live In ‘58 opens with “The High And The Mighty” already in progress, a slow tune that has him tapping the vibes and giving a hint of his genius. According to trumpet player Art Hoyle, Hamp would never open a show with a number like that. So combined with the fact that Hamp and company usually put on a show that would last a couple of hours (here we get fifty-eight minutes), we’re left to believe that the filmed portion of the show was only half or part of the whole. Also missing is “Flying Home,” a crowd favorite and Hamp’s biggest hit. Oh well, any footage is worth having of this musical great in action.
Hamp moves over to the piano for “Hamp’s Piano Blues” and picks up the pace as his band does the same. Things star to really jump as Hamp sits next to his regular piano man, Oscar Denard, to trade runs on the black and whites. Both display fine skill tickling the ivories but with the spotlight on Hamp we see that he has fingers like Olympic sprinters, dashing to and fro as they skip along the 88 keys. We get good solos from the sax and trumpet before Hamp heads back to the vibes with a bit of scatting and moves us into “The History Of Jazz.”
“The History Of Jazz” puts the clarinet, trumpet, and trombone up front to wail throughout. The opening is a sleepy tune that sounds a bit like “Stormy Weather” and brings the feel of a New Orleans street scene circa late 1800s/early 1900s. The “History” continues with “Hot Club Blues,” a mid-tempo blues that goes out to the hot club of Belgium and mixes traditional with modern jazz, featuring Cornelius “Pinocchio” James on vocals. “Pinocchio” has a good jazz/blues voice in the same style as Billy Eckstein but not as powerful as “Big” Joe Turner.
As “History” advances, Hamp kicks up the pace and sends us to the Dixieland Swing era with “I Found A New Baby” (which breaks down to “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’) and begins to tear the joint down. The bass thumps hard as the drums and horns heat to a boil before Billy Mackel jumps up and swings his guitar like a zoot suiter swings a chain. Solos move from drums to sax and back to Hamp before they move on to a view of jazz to come in a “thing we call ‘The Big Chase.’”
The band continues to romp, stomp, jump, and fly as they rework Dexter Gordon’s “The Chase” complete with a sax solo that rivals the highs of Sputnik. This tune jams right up to the point where Hamp gets back on vibes and moves into “Brussels Sprouts” which is more of the same at a slightly slower pace. Hamp also makes mention of a song they played earlier that was not caught on film written by “a mad Monk.”
“Sticks Ahoy” is where Hamp shines on his tom-tom, brighter than the lighthouse at Alexandria. He performs like a circus attraction as he spins, flips, juggles, and bounces sticks off one another and the drum skin before catching the sticks behind his back. The band whips into frenzy as Hamp brings it all together sending the act to its climax and rounding out the show with a jamming run on the vibes in a piece named after his wife “Gladys.”
And that’s Lionel Hampton: Live In ’58 from Belgium. Moving with fury from just about the start and never letting up until the curtain drops is the way every show went if you believe the people who where there when it all happened.
The DVD was filmed by a fledgling TV crew and it shows in the bad cuts and odd close-ups but none of that matters as the music takes over and you get lost in the overall vibe of the show. The DVD also comes with an informative 24-page booklet containing reflections from various band members including Quincy Jones. The general history of Hamp and breakdown of the show with added facts and info, such as the titles for most of these songs were made up on the spot, make viewing more enjoyable. The booklet and DVD case are packed with photos of band members and magazine articles that featured Hamp and his boys.