Monday, December 20, 2004

Lionel Hampton and His Inner Circle of Jazz - Greasy Greens

There’s an old saw out there about “second acts” (i.e. they either do or do not exist…) They do, at least in the world of music. Look at the careers of the B52’s, Elton John etc. Of course those examples would lead one to believe that the comeback requires a certain loss of quality to succeed, bringing into question what level of pure nostalgia is responsible for said return. There are also second acts, that flip the formula over, resulting in work of high quality and little or no public recognition. One such second act belonged to Lionel Hampton. Hampton, well-known jazzbo and part of Benny Goodman’s famous integrated groups was a master of the vibes (who started out as drummer) and was much beloved by jazzers the world over. The 1960’s rolled around, and the world wasn’t all that interested in big jazz bands anymore. The first (most severe) decline in the big bands had occurred in the 1940’s when the audiences/bookings required to keep a large band on the road (and paid) tapered off. Very few of the popular big bands stayed together (Woody Herman was famous for keeping his band alive for much longer than most). Anyway, Hampton, who had abandoned the cutting edge in the 30’s when he left Goodman’s employ, carried on. Sometime in the early 60’s he formed his own ‘Glad-Hamp’ label, and started releasing 45’s and LPs. Some of these 45s were interesting but not terribly exciting examples of soul jazz. One of them (the one we gather here to chat about today) was a stone solid gas. At this point it’s only fair to mention that I didn’t find this one on my own. My good buddy Haim (at hepped me to it’s existence a few years back, and me, with my wig suitably flipped worked post-haste to track down a copy of my own. The tune, ‘Greasy Greens’ had been recorded by Hampton on a 1967 live LP from the Newport Jazz Festival. That version is but the bare bones, a rough sketch as it were, of the brilliance to come. The version on the Glad-Hamp 45 is a revelation. At first, the thought of someone like Lionel Hampton getting his funk on is much like the first time I saw Bob Hope in the 1969 film ‘How To Commit Marriage’, in which the then 65 year old Hope donned sideburns and a Nehru jacket to appear “with it”. Unlike that masquerade, Hampton’s quest for soul gold was a decided success. Beginning with a thunderous drum roll (and a bass drum that sounds like it was right under the recording console), and Hamp’s riffing vibes, ‘Greasy Greens’ explodes with a super-tight horn section . The tune has a bottom that makes Beyonce look like Calista Flockhart, and as a result is supremely danceable and quite decidedly funky. And just when you think the greens couldn’t get any greeeeazier, the saxophones drop in with this crazy semi-echoplexed solo. The grooviest thing of all is that Hamp drops back and is happy just to provide a shimmering vibraphonic backing to the whole affair. What is most astounding (aside from how great a 45 this is) is the rawness. Hampton wasn’t the only old-schooler striving for relevance in the Age of Aquarius, but he was certainly one of the best. This is no cheaply concocted afterthought to try to drag a few kids through the box office. ‘Greasy Greens’ is the kind of record you make when you have your heart in the process. Hamp later went on to record a number of “funky” LPs for the Brunswick label, but nothing as tight and satisfying as “Greasy Greens”. He also went on to record the stirring funk anthem ‘We Need Nixon’, so go figure…
On a related note, Philadelphia DJ George Woods ("The Guy With The Goods") lifted the melody of 'Greasy Greens' for his own record 'Potato Salad Pts 1&2'.


Anonymous Tony Suarez TONSUA said...

I copped this feel of a 45 at the Laney college swapmeet in Oakland, CA. I had Lionel's Them Changes on Brunswick from a later period.
I read that the Glad in Glad Hamp is his wife and biz partner GLadys.

The wild alto solo sounds like two soloists battling out. Perhaps the solos are overdubbed. I found a few gladhamps from the same period but none were in the same phenomenonal vein as Greasy Greens.

Many a great up and commer did time in Lionel's band. In many ways he was the farm of Jazz players, in many ways like Art Blakey Jazz messengers, to grow and be fed.

I saw Hamp in 1983 at the San Diego Zoo of all places, and he had some hot shit horn players. They even brought out a drum kit for Hamp to drop a few licks in.
I was a 17 year old and saw the encyclopedia of jazz that summer due to the cheap concert prices:
Count Basie w/Freddie green, buddy rich (all accounts of him being a pisser were easily and evident, ,calling out songs and making the band dig for the chart as he counted off) and Ramsey Lewis. All in the little stadium where they held the seals show.

I am a long time reader of 16 corners, first time caller/blogger.
Greetings from San diego.

Tony Suarez (not sanchez)

2/18/2005 06:25:00 PM  

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