Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Making of Lionel Hampton: Jazz Legend

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

For those interested in such things, the good offices of Hudson Music are located within New York city’s famed “Manhattan Center,” a concert facility and suite of production offices that has just been overrun by the Arts and Entertainment Network. The whole gigantic building is attached to another venerable New York city institution by the name of The Hotel New Yorker. That’s where I just spent three days, helping to edit the forthcoming Hudson Music DVD that bears the working title of “Lionel Hampton: Jazz Legend.” 

The New Yorker was once among the city’s hotel showplaces. Every big band played there. It’s now own and run by Ramada and caters mostly to foreign tourists, transients and even has a floor or two set aside for student housing. For those who actually read the dictionary, it’s listed in Websters under “F” for fleabag. I could swear I was bitten by two or three of them during the night. I got the sense that those fleas might have been the same ones that were there when Tex Beneke worked the joint. 

The experts will tell you that making a film–or in our case, a documentary or “performance-oriented retrospective”–is about as exciting as watching paint dry. It’s actually a bit more exciting than that, especially when one has an editor as talented as Phil Fallo (“Great Day in Harlem,” among many others) at the helm. Phil can make anything look good. Plus, we had the participation of one of the great mallet artists in history, Mike Mainieri, and a gentleman and scholar who is also the world’s greatest drummer by the name of Steve Smith. These fine people not only narrated our project, but had considerable input into the script. In line with that “considerable input” is the fact that Mr. Fallo and I needed to somehow translate everyone’s additions, corrections and opinions… to what actually appears on the screen. That’s not always easy. 

As an example, take a section about how Hamp just happened to play jazz vibes on an October, 1930, record session where the Les Hite band backed Louis Armstrong on “Memories of You.” No film exists of this, the story is long and involved, and everyone seems to have a different take on exactly what happened almost 75 years ago. Words are great, to be sure, but this isn’t a book. What do you put on the screen? Ken Burns? Where are you when we need you? I’ll take Ralph Burns at this juncture! 

Without giving away trade secrets, let’s just say that I found some vintage film of Pops and Gates together, though not from 1930, and a number of still pictures of them both. Phil Fallo worked his magic with this material, and you’d swear it was, indeed, Louis and Lionel in 1930. Ah…the magic of film. 

Fortunately, Lionel Hampton was among the most filmed and recorded of the jazz giants. That he was eminently photographable and always the showman certainly helped. In “Lionel Hampton: Jazz Legend,” we present film of Hamp in each decade from the 1930s (with the first clip emanating from 1936) to one of his final extended performances with “The Golden Men of Jazz” in 1993. Needless to say, in addition to playing vibes, Hamp plays drums, piano, jumps up on the tom-tom, and mixes it up with the likes of Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Milt Buckner, Al Grey, Betty Carter, Billy Mackel, Woody Herman and many, many more. 

Lionel Hampton was an artist who, along the way, played with everyone from Armstrong and Tatum and Gene and Buddy, to Mingus and Chick Corea. And, as we say in the narration, “he swung them all.” Watch this space for release date. 

Book update: “Gene Krupa: The Pictorial Life of a Jazz Legend” (Warner Bros. Publications) will go on press shortly after some last minute proofing and design tweaking. It’s quite a package at 170-plus pages of photos and commentary, measures the size of a coffee-table book, and will come with a CD of unreleased Krupa gems. JazzLegends. com friends take note: I insisted that this be priced in the $16.95 range. When it’s released–and you’ll be among the first to know–be sure to buy early and often! Keep swingin and all my best for the New Year and beyond. 

Bruce Klauber