It now says on my about page that I go nuts for vibraphone solos. I added that to reflect my recently unearthed obsession with all things Lionel Hampton. I love his creativity and the way his vibes always fit perfectly into the songs where they feature. However, while everyone knows “Flying Home” and “Lavender Coffin,” I wanted to take a moment to feature some really swinging Lionel Hampton songs that I don’t hear as often.
By the way – I found all of these tunes for free at Classic Jazz Online, and with better sound quality than the clips in this post. Head over there and stock up!
I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me, 130 BPM, 3:16
I can’t get enough of this easy swinger. It starts out with a sweet saxophone solo and some excellent jazz electric guitar, almost certainly played by Charlie Christian. Then Hampton kicks in on the vibes, and they lend such an elegant sound to the rest of the song. I would love to play this after the floor was exhausted after a couple of high-tempo songs – it’s a great song for more relaxed dancing.
Open House, 132 BPM, 3:16
I love this song for its easily follow-able melody, and its beautiful solos – along with those vibes, you get to hear some saxophone, piano, clarinet, and electric guitar (Charlie Christian again!), and they all sound great. The mood is pretty chill, but the more upbeat feel of the main melody gives it a little more energy.
Loose Wig, 144 BPM, 3:03
This song starts out with some peppy hand-clapping, and then moves into a sax-trumpet call-response. The instrumentation is bold and features some pretty daring stuff on a soprano saxophone, and then the vibes hit and absolutely tear it up. Hampton is laid back and yet keeps perfectly on rhythm. (I think this is less surprising once you know that in his early career as a drummer, Hampton was famous for performing tricks like tossing and twirling his drumsticks and mallets, without ever missing a beat.)
Royal Family, 158 BPM, 3:09
I love the melody of this song. The A chorus has an AAAB structure – super easy to swing out to – and the full chorus is AABA (just like they teach you in solo class!). Once the first chorus is through, you get beautiful soprano sax, piano, and that electric guitar! Throughout, Hampton holds it down on the vibes in the background, and his solo around 1:50 is understated but really funky and fun to listen to.
Wee Albert, 188 BPM, 3:20
This tune is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorites. It swings along with a spiraling trumpet melody supported by a steady sax line, and it only gets more enthusiastic and upbeat as it moves along. There’s a pretty epic tenor sax solo starting around the 1:55 mark, and that wailing trumpet comes back and just does not stop. The vibes pop in right around the end for a big finish. Super fun!
When Lights Are Low, 200 BPM, 2:15
To me, this peppy rendition is an ideal demonstration of Lionel Hampton’s remarkable ability to carry the integrity of a melody while having all sorts of fun with rhythm and mood. The vibes start around :20 in and, supported by Charlie Christian holding down a steady beat on guitar, Hampton creates an artful portrait of the main melody of “When Lights Are Low” while somehow managing to move all over the vibraphone’s expressive range. I love this piece for solo jazz, and it would also get the balboa dancers hopping!
Flying Home: The Live Performance That Will Blow Your Mind
A post on Lionel Hampton would not be complete without a moment of appreciation for this eight minute long live rendition of “Flying Home” that pumps along at 256 BPM. Even if you don’t have time for the whole clip, at the very least watch the first few minutes and notice how much energy goes into Lionel Hampton playing on those vibes. This is clearly a man possessed by rhythm. His entire body bounces up and down with the beat, his hands bopping in time with the rhythm even when waiting to make his next move. I find this clip mesmerizing. Hope you enjoy!