Thursday, April 20, 2006

Celebrating Lionel Hampton’s Legacy

Born on April 20 (or April 12 depending on the source), 1909, Lionel Hampton has a unique position in American cultural history. He was a member of the historic Benny Goodman Quartet, the first racially integrated combo to perform in public. He was arguably the first musician to record a jazz solo on the vibraphone. Some give this distinction to Adrian Rollini, but Hampton firmly established the vibes as a jazz soloist’s instrument. He led one of the top bands in jazz, demonstrating remarkable longevity and hiring some of jazz’s greatest artists early in their careers.

As I wrote in this Tech Central Station piece, Hampton was also an activist Republican. He had a leadership role in Richard Nixon’s first Congressional campaign, and had a long personal relationship with the Bush family. In addition, Hamp was a strong supporter of Israel throughout his life. His only extended symphonic composition, The King David Suite was inspired by an early visit to this key U.S. ally. (Unfortunately, it appears to be unrecorded, or unreleased as of yet.)

Hampton did record extensively during his lifetime, and we have a rich musical legacy to enjoy. In Manhattan, we miss his Republican leadership. Recently, a Harlem Republican club has recently renamed itself The Lionel Hampton Republican Club. Operating in the district represented in the State Assembly by the Democrat State Party Chair, these Harlem Republican could use some of Hamp’s good vibes. Hamp would be happy to oblige. Spin his classic “Flying Home” and celebrate the life of an American original.