About this Recording
8.120766 - HAMPTON, Lionel: Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop (1941-1951)

‘Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop’ Original Recordings 1941-1951

Although Lionel Hampton is best known for his trailblazing work playing vibraphone with Benny Goodman, equal credit should be given to his success and staying power as a bandleader. Beginning when he left Goodman in 1940, Hampton outlasted every other big band leader of the Swing Era, performing until shortly before his death in 2002 at the age of 94. Almost as important as his work as a bandleader was his ability to spot and hire young talent for his orchestra. The 1940s saw a veritable Who’s Who of jazz legends pass through his organization, including Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Joe Williams, Dexter Gordon, and Wes Montgomery.

Hampton would never have been a success without the help of his wife and business manager, Gladys. Gladys took care of the books, the accounting, paying musicians, and even designing their attire, leaving Lionel to concentrate on his performing, songwriting, and arranging. It was Gladys who convinced Hampton to go out on his own after he had been with Benny Goodman for four years. In the fall of 1940 their plans took shape, with Hampton moving to Los Angeles to organize his band.

Gladys had realized that in addition to not having to compete with the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Count Basie in New York, they could also get away with paying less in salaries for young West Coast musicians. This turned out to be a brilliant move, for Hampton found a seemingly endless array of talented youngsters eager to get a break in the music business. Rehearsing at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue, Hampton would further the careers of trumpet players Ernie Royal and Joe Newman, saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Illinois Jacquet, pianist Milt Buckner, and guitarist Irving Ashby.

By the end of 1941, Gladys had secured a recording contract for Lionel with Decca Records, and the band had its first session on Christmas Eve, producing a supercharged version of Nola, a warhorse written in 1916. Unfortunately, Hampton would have few chances to record before James C. Petrillo’s AFM strike paralyzed the recording industry the following July (he was able to wax his famous version of “Flying Home”). Hampton lost many of his key musicians to the draft, but kept the band going. Gladys booked the group on tours throughout the country, including some harrowing trips into the South. The band grew, with Hampton adding two singers (Rubel Blakely and Madeline Green) and comedian Slappy White.

One night in Chicago in 1943, Joe Glaser, Hampton’s booking agent, told Lionel about a young girl singer performing at Garrick’s Show Bar, a club frequented by sailors coming ashore from work on Lake Michigan. The singer, Ruth Jones, sang “Sweet Georgia Brown” and impressed Hampton so much that after the show, he went backstage and hired her on the spot, changing her name to Dinah Washington, a name that had come to him on the spur of the moment. Later that year, Hampton met songwriter Leonard Feather, who had written some blues songs especially for Dinah to sing. In December, Hampton backed Dinah with a sextet for Keynote Records, a small independent label in New York. Two of the songs, I Know How To Do It (featuring Hampton on drums) and Homeward Bound are included on this CD. The latter featured Hampton playing the treble notes in a piano duet with Milt Buckner. However, the Keynote recordings (which had been done without Gladys’ knowledge) violated Hampton’s contract with Decca, resulting in a legal quagmire that did not get settled until 1945.

Hampton returned to the Decca studios in March 1944 with his big band, which now was reflecting a subtle change in swing’s direction, from the relatively staid, predictable approach of the war years to a quirkier sound, heavy on the back beat with elements of jump and bebop creeping in. Songs like Loose Wig and Chop-Chop (with cowriting credit going to Gladys Neal, his wife’s name from a previous marriage) reflected this change, which was made to appeal more to black audiences. Hampton said in his 1989 autobiography, ‘I stayed in the black groove. You’d know my band was black just from listening to it. The crossover to the white audience hadn’t happened yet’.

As the 1940s progressed, Lionel Hampton kept his music exciting by infusing his swing with blues, Count Basie-style riffs, and boogie-woogie. Midway through 1945, Hampton hired saxophonist Herbie Fields, the first white musician in his band. According to Hampton, ‘When we performed on stage, he wore makeup to darken his face so he didn’t stand out so much. It was still unusual to have an integrated band.’ Fields’ sensational clarinet solo on Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop made him a star and he would leave Hampton the next year to form his own band. Hampton got his inspiration for the song from a Helen Humes record, “Be-Ba- Be-Le-Ba,” which had been recorded for Philo earlier in the year.

In May 1945, Dinah Washington cut another Leonard Feather blues, Blow-Top Blues, which became her biggest hit yet. Despite being with the band for three years, Dinah wasn’t happy about the infrequency of her vocals, so despite having her salary raised from $75 per week to $125, she left the group in the fall.

Perhaps harkening back to the exciting times of the Benny Goodman Quartet, Hampton recorded a brief session with a quartet, featuring pianist Dan Burley, guitarist Billy Mackel, bassist Charlie Harris, and drummer George Jenkins. We’ve included three superb tracks from this session: the driving Chord-A-Re-Bop, Hamp’s Salty Blues, and Limehouse Blues, the latter a throwback from the Goodman years.

Alto saxophonist Ben Kynard’s Reminiscing Mood shows Hampton using unconventional chords found in records by Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton. A sure sign that Hamp was heading in a bebop direction was in his 1947 recording of the bebop anthem, How High The Moon, again with a quartet backing him up (listen for quotes from several bebop classics, including “Groovin’ High”, whose chords are based on “How High the Moon”, and Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”). Later that year, Hampton recorded his own soon-to-be bebop classic, Midnight Sun, in an arrangement by Sonny Burke.

In 1948, Hampton discovered a vocalist to replace Dinah Washington, and one who could sing bebop as well. Betty Carter was then an aspiring eighteen-year-old singer from Flint, Michigan named Lorene Carter who had sat in with Charlie Parker and other bebop musicians. Hampton hired her and nicknamed her ‘Betty Bebop’. Betty Carter recalled, ‘Hamp used to ask me which band I liked better, his or Dizzy’s. I would say Dizzy’s and he’d fire me. Gladys Hampton loved my work and had a funny feeling that I might do something. Every time he’d fire me, she’d rehire me. He fired me seven times and I stayed with the band two-and-a-half years.’

Hampton’s last session for Decca came in 1949, with his cover of the western swing hit, Rag Mop. After this came a label switch to MGM, for whom Hamp continued his strides into R&B and even attempts at early rock and roll. It showed that through the years, Lionel Hampton could glide effortlessly from genre to genre, still retaining the genius that made him a jazz legend in every era in which he played.

Cary Ginell – a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism

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