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Lionel Hampton: The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941

RCA Victor’s formula was simple: put the exciting young vibraphonist, drummer and two-finger piano player Lionel Hampton in a studio with various combinations of his peers and see what happens. With a few exceptions, these were lightly organized jam sessions. Accordingly, the music varies in quality, but many of the 107 tracks represent the swing era at its artistic zenith. Hampton’s collaborators came from the bands of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Earl Hines, giving him the cream of the period’s soloists and rhythm players.

In most cases, the musicians played standard songs or devised pieces based on standards and the blues, but in a few instances Hampton ordered arrangements by Benny Carter, Budd Johnson and other writers. As Loren Schoenberg points out in his detailed, helpful notes, on one of those occasions in 1938 the leader “hits pay dirt.” Carter wrote for a band made up of Hampton, trumpeter Harry James, alto saxophonist Dave Matthews, tenor saxophonists Babe Russin and Herschel Evans, with Carter himself on alto saxophone and clarinet. The rhythm section was pianist Billy Kyle, bassist John Kirby and drummer Jo Jones. The session introduced “I’m in the Mood for Swing,” one of the greatest small-band recordings of any era, the solos integrating perfectly with Carter’s writing. His saxophone scoring in the piece is velvet over spring steel. The interracial makeup of this group and others in the set was, in part, a legacy from Hampton’s boss Benny Goodman, a pioneer in racial color blindness when he hired Teddy Wilson in 1935 and Hampton in 1936.

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