Terry Gibbs,
From Me to You:
A Tribute to Lionel Hampton

(Mack Avenue, 2002)

This is an enthusiastic tribute to the late Lionel Hampton, a vibes player who was one of the Swing Era's most explosive improvisers. Hamp couldn't hide his joy in playing. He'd grunt, groan, smile and stick out his tongue in a pre-Michael Jordan "watch this." He played concerts well into his 80s and never stopped trying to please audiences. Hampton died in 2002 at the age of 94, but his compositions, swinging recordings and the playing of the many musicians who got a start in one of his bands are a terrific legacy.

Vibes player Terry Gibbs was one of those Hampton helped. He thought of Gibbs as a protege and they were friends from the first time they met in the '40s. Though Gibbs was younger and absorbed more of the bebop style of Parker and Gillespie, his playing is so influenced by Hampton there is no better choice for a tribute album.

The release starts with "Midnight Sun." Belying Hampton's sometimes clownish image, it's a lovely ballad that he co-wrote with Sonny Burke and Johnny Mercer. The equally strong final track features "Flying Home," an upbeat tune he co-authored with Benny Goodman and Robin Sydney. It was his biggest recorded hit. In between, Gibbs plays other tunes associated with Hampton, plus four of his own compositions written in Hampton's memory. The best of these is the deeply felt title tune, "From Me to You."

The main soloists in addition to Gibbs are Pete Christlieb on tenor, Joey DeFrancesco on organ, Mike Levoin on piano and Anthony Wilson on guitar. All are solid mainstream players who have recorded as leaders of their own groups. The underrated Barbara Morrison appears, with tongue in cheek, on one cut. She sings "Evil Gal Blues," another tune Hampton had a hand in writing, this time with jazz critic Leonard Feather.

Gibbs is the good-natured singer on three tracks that fit the tribute theme by reminding us of the novelty numbers Hampton performed to win over a live audience. "Hey Ba-Ba-Rebop" is one of them. But these don't work as well in a recording and Gibbs, though obviously enjoying himself, is no singer.

His joyous playing on the other hand remains as good as it was when it was winning jazz polls in the '50s, and his cohorts add all the right variety and spice. I believe Lionel Hampton would have enjoyed this affectionate, sometimes poignant but mostly swinging tribute. I know I did and I strongly recommend it to lovers of fine middle-of-the road jazz.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 1 November 2003

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