Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton, born Lionel Leo Hampton on April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky, was an American jazz drummer, vibraphonist, pianist, bandleader and actor. He is credited, along with Red Norvo, as being one of the very first jazz vibraphone players. A legend in jazz, Hampton worked with some of the biggest names of the day including Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones and numerous others.

As a teenager in Chicago in the 1920s, Lionel started playing the drums and took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand. His first professional began playing drums for the Chicago Defender Newsboys' Band. Moving to California in the late 20s, Lionel played drums for the Dixieland Blues-Blowers and made his recording debut, on the drums, with The Quality Serenaders. He later moved to Culver City, drumming for the Les Hite band at Sebastian's Cotton Club

One of Hampton's trademarks was his stunt work on the drums — using multiple pairs of drum sticks, twirling and juggling without missing a beat. He also began practicing on a fairly new mallet instrument, the vibraphone (aka vibraharp of vibes).

When Louis Armstrong came to California and hired the Les Hite band, he asked Hampton to play vibes on several songs. So began Hampton's career as a vibraphonist, popularizing the use of the instrument in the process.

In 1934, Hampton branched out on his own, leading his own orchestra. A few years later he appeared (wearing a mask in a scene while playing drums) in the Bing Crosby film, Pennies From Heaven (1936), with Louis Armstrong. Also in 1936, Benny Goodman saw Hampton perform and promptly invited him to join his trio, and later the Benny Goodman Quartet with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa.

As Hampton continued to work with Goodman in New York, he made a number of recordings with Goodman as well as with several small group incarnations known as the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. In 1940 Hampton parted ways with Goodman to form his own big band. From the mid-1940s to the early 50s, Hampton made recording with numerous young performers who would later gain fame on their own — Milt Buckner, Jimmy Cleveland, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Mingus, Wes Montgomery and Dinah Young. Members of his recording and/or touring bands included Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, Snooky Young, Jimmy Cleveland, Illinois Jacquet, Jerome Richardson, Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Anthony Ortega, Monk Montgomery, George Wallington, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, and singer Annie Ross.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Hampton recorded with small groups and jam sessions with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Buddy DeFranco, Buddy Rich and many others.

While in California (1955) working on the film, The Benny Goodman Story, Hampton recorded with Stan Getz and made two albums with Art Tatum for Norman Granz as well as with his own big band.

The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame inducted Hampton in 1992. He was also awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996.

Lionel Hampton died on August 31, 2002 at the age of 94.