The program bloat that kept some Friday concertgoers in their seats until early Saturday dissipated by Saturday night. The final Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival concert was trim and full of excitement provided by two big bands. The ad hoc performance hall in a field house the size of a dirigible hangar was outfitted with dance floors on either side. Throughout the evening, the floors were crowded with members of the hip-hop generation grooving to music with roots in the swing era.
The Lionel Hampton band and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performed separately and together. The Hamptonians included members closely associated with Hampton before his death in 2002, among them the impressive young trombonist Clarence Banks, vibraharpist Chuck Redd and the entertaining drummer Wally “Gator” Watson. In addition to its instrumentals, the band backed pianist and singer Dee Daniels in two soul-inflected vocals and Jon Hendricks scatting that most basic of Hampton jump tunes, “Hey Bob A Rebop.”
Artistic director John Clayton, his alto saxophonist brother Jeff and Jeff Hamilton, the festival’s apparently inexhaustible house drummer, unleashed their explosive big band in a set alive with deep swing and superb solo work. Charles Owens and Ricky Woodard had a testosteronic tenor battle on “Jazz Party.” 89-year-old Snooky Young
riveted the audience–and his fellow band members–with his plunger trumpet solo on “I Be Serious ’bout Dem Blues,” which also had exciting choruses by Jeff Clayton, Woodard, the veteran trombonist George Bohanon and the 21-year-old guitar discovery Graham Dechter. John Clayton dedicated “Squatty Roo” to the late bassist Ray Brown, who for years was a mainstay of the Hampton festival. Trumpeters Clay Jenkins and Gilbert Castellanos were impressive and distinctively different from one another on that classic Johnny Hodges “I Got Rhythm” variant. The piece incorporated a passage of quiet intensity from the rhythm section of Hamilton, pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty, who in their other life are the Jeff Hamilton Trio. Singer Kevin Mahogany was at the top of his bass-baritone game sitting in on “Route 66” and “One For My Baby.”
Following intermission and the introduction of outstanding student soloists from the Hampton Festival’s extensive educational activities, came a rare event. The big bands together played two of the arrangements from First Time!, the 1961 recording by the Count Basie and Duke Elllington bands. Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s “Battle Royal” (those “Rhythm” changes again) was highlighted by a good-natured, often hilarious, drum competition between Watson and Hamilton. In the gorgeous Thad Jones ballad “To You,” George Bohanon soloed movingly in the trombone spot filled by Quentin “Butter” Jackson on the Ellington-Basie recording.
Finally (well, almost finally), Chuck Redd, playing Lionel Hampton’s vibes, led the way into “Flyin’ Home,” thirty-two men swinging hard on Hamp’s theme song. As they eased into “What A Wonderful World,” backing the recorded voice of Hampton singing, the big screens in the hall showed a montage of photos of this year’s festival performers in action. Then the bands segued into “Happy Birthday” in honor of Hampton’s 100th and the crowd of 5,000 joined in. The montage dissolved into video and still photographs of Hampton through the years as confetti and streamers wafted down onto the crowd, sparkling in the lights that swept the auditorium. It was a spectacular finish.
As for the reason Lionel Hampton involved himself with the festival in the first place, after the festival University of Idaho Provost Doug Baker summed up the importance of the educational component,.
The clinics and competitions are the major part of the festival for the students. It is inspiring to see them grow during the week and to see the joy of the musicians teaching them.
Being among those 10,000 children, watching them in rapt attention, hearing them play, dodging them in hallways, on campus paths and downtown streets as they darted from event to event, made for a stimulating, rejuvenating, week.