Lionel Hampton: King David Suite in Munich

Munich Summer Piano Festival 1994

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Lionel Hampton — Bandleader, vibraphonist

St. Petersburg State Orchestra — Orchestra

Alexander Tschernuschenko — Conductor

Program notes

This gem of a concert, from the 1994 Munich Summer Piano Festival, marks a rare glimpse into the later years of a true jazz icon. Lionel Hampton's bands were famous for both popularizing and progressing the jazz tradition in the 40s and 50s, as well as acting as incubators for some of America's greatest talents: Quincy Jones, Dinah Washington, Charles Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie. Though his style of big band music fell out of the mainstream in the 60s, he continued to perform until suffering an on-stage stroke in 1991, which limited Hampton's concert-playing days. He rarely performed in his final decade, so this show feels like a send-off of sorts. 

Wearing a sharp suit and an interminable smile, Hampton seems to have lost none of his charm or flair as a band leader. He fills up the first half an hour with a truly sublime performance of the King David Suite, Hampton's little-known symphonic masterpiece, with the backing of the St. Petersburg State Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Tschernuschenko). Then, jumping from the classical world back into the jazz realm, he fires off a repertoire full of classics, from Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" to "In The Mood" to "What A Wonderful World," his final piece, which is dedicated to "the greatest jazz man of all time, the one-and-only Louis Armstrong." Another noteworthy moment comes when Hampton swaps the mallets for sticks towards the end of the concert, jumping on the drum kit for a brief reminder that the great vibraphonist started his career as a drummer. 

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