Lionel Hampton, Live in ‘58 (2008)
Jazz Icons Series 3
Studio: Reelin’ in the Years Productions 2119012 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: DD mono
Extras: illustrated 24-page booklet, essay by John McDonough
Length: 58 minutes
This was a concert in the Royal Theater Opera House in Liege, Belgium, filmed by the nation’s public broadcasting operation. The mono soundtrack is excellent and most of the film looks fine, though in the few long shots of the entire stage it is washed out. But the production suffers a bit from the limitations of early TV. There are repeated inserts of audience members which seem to be at an entirely different concert, and occasional closeups of band members when that particular player isn’t doing a solo on the soundtrack at all.
The nine-tune program is somewhat unbalanced – the opening number a quiet and moody improv on the theme from the movie The High and the Mighty (which Hamp would never have used to open a concert). But with the great vibist’s patter from behind his instrument at the front of the stage, and his general always-smiling, upbeat presentation, we gain a feeling for Hamp’s reputation as an irrepressible showman. Some of his introductions are a bit hesitant and lame, but perhaps he was thinking that half the French-speaking audience probably didn’t understand him anyway.
But the music is gangbusters. It’s a big band blend of blues, jazz, dixie, jump and rhythm n’ blues. I had forgotten that Hamp sometimes played with four mallets, and the closeups of his playing are a treat. The band members, however, appear somewhat bored. For Hamp’s Piano Blues, he leaves his vibes, pushes his pianist Oscar Denard down to the left end of the bench, and takes over the treble part of the keyboard while oriented sideways to face the audience with his big smile. He attacks the notes with a quirky two-finger right hand approach that reminded me of Chico Marx’s unique piano style in movies. Hamp’s vocalist on I Found a New Baby, Pinochio somebody, is a kick, and Hamp switches to a showoff pounding of his tom-tom for Sticks Ahoy. The closing number honors Hamp’s take-charge wife who was also the band’s manager. It’s a wonderful addition to the archive of American music to have this Lionel Hampton concert on video.
TrackList: The High and the Mighty, Hamp’s Piano Blues, The History of Jazz, Hot Club Blues, I Found a New Baby, The Chase, Brussels Sprouts, Sticks Ahoy, Gladys.
– John Henry