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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 234

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This is the grave of Lionel Hampton.

Born in 1908 in Louisville, he and his mother moved frequently in his youth–to Birmingham, then to Kenosha, and then to Chicago. He took an interest in music from a young age, particularly in percussion. He started taking xylophone lessons as a boy and played the drums for a bunch of bands as a young man. He moved to California and while there, met Louis Armstrong. Satchmo asked Hampton to play the vibraphone on a few songs and his career on the instrument rather uncommon for jazz started taking off. Armstrong was a mentor over the next few years, but a bigger break came in 1936 when Benny Goodman asked him to join his band. The Goodman Quartet, also featuring Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson became a major jazz band. Now a big name, in 1940, Hampton left Goodman’s band to start his own. The Lionel Hampton Orchestra would have many hits between the early 40s and the mid 50s. Having a good ear for talent, young musicians who played in the orchestra included Wes Montgomery, Charles Mingus, Milt Buckner, Dinah Washington, and Dizzy Gillespie. He continued recording with all sorts of greats, from Oscar Peterson to Stan Getz.

The 1960s and 1970s were not great years for older jazz musicians. The music took a radical left turn, as did the culture, and someone like Hampton wasn’t necessarily prepared to adjust. I will however say that his 1974 album, Stop! I Don’t Need No Sympathy! holds up pretty well, combining Hampton’s vibes with a very modern sound.

Hampton had a stroke in 1991 and suffered from a bad heart anyway. He didn’t play much in his last decade. He died in 2002.

As always when discussing musicians, sounds are better than words. So here’s some of Hampton’s work:

Lionel Hampton is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

If you would like this series to visit more jazz legends, you can help cover the necessary expenses here. Dinah Washington and Gene Krupa are both in Chicago, just to suggest a couple possibilities. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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