Friday, December 18, 2015

When Lights Are Low - Lionel Hampton All-Star Session, September 1939

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton signed a favorable contract with RCA Victor in 1937 that allowed him to invite musicians from other popular jazz orchestras of the time to record a series of sessions that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible to organize. From 1937 to 1941 Hampton recorded 107 sides featuring musicians from the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller and Earl Hines, giving him the cream of the period’s soloists and rhythm players. These recordings rank among some of the best small band swing jazz of the late 1930s and they have since been reissued both on vinil and CD, i.e.. at the 5 CDs box-set from Mosaic some years ago, shown below (- unfortunately out of print).
Mosaic #238, The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-41
Here I like to put focus on a famous session from September 11, 1939 that unites Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Ben Webster as the dream sax section with a young Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Clyde Hart (piano), Charlie Christian (guitar), Milt Hinton (double bass) and Cozy Cole (drums); Hampton leads the session and contributes both on vibes and as vocalist.
Exerpt of discograpical info, Mosaic #238 (click to enlarge)
Benny Carter's arrangement of When Lights Are Low was the first tune and recorded in two takes, the second take probably is the best known featuring solo spots by Carter, Hampton, Hart and Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins
The first take of When Lights Are Low has a different solo by Hampton

One Sweet Letter From You has vocal by Hampton and the guitar playing obligato is by Charlie Christian (- here on acoustic strings)
Charlie Christian
The tenor solo is by Hawkins or Webster (- unfortunately I'm not the expert to differentiate the two in this session, sorry) 

Hot Mallets has a nice muted trompet solo by a young Dizzy Gillespie exchanging riffs with Carter's alto followed by a short tenor contribution by Chu Berry and a lengthy Hampton solo
Dizzy Gillespie

The last tune in this session was Early Session Hop that has fine examples of the sax section playing in unison followed by solos by Hawkins, Hampton and Carter
l-r: Webster, Carter, Berry, Hawkins (sax), Hart (piano)

What makes these recordings magnificent examples of small band swing of the late 1930s is not only the solo contributions by the reed players and the leader. The rhythm is execellently supported by great playing of both Milt Hinton's double bass, Christian's guitar comping and Cozy Cole's drums.
Cozy Cole
The rather short playing time of each of the recorded tunes leaves a wish for more, however, you could also say that the session is a fine example of the artistic formula expressing the experience that - sometimes - less is more ...!

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