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Lionel Hampton, 94, Pioneering Jazz Vibraphonist

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By Claudia Levy - The Washington Post

Lionel Hampton, 94, the frenetic jazz vibraphonist, gifted bandleader and storied showman who was one of the most celebrated musicians of the swing era and went on to a six-decade career on the American stage, died Saturday in a hospital in New York after a heart attack.

Hampton, who made hundreds of records, was known for tremendous energy and for directing bands that were among the most long-lived and consistently popular large ensembles in jazz.

He toured the world and wrote more than 200 pieces of music, including such jazz standards as “Evil Gal Blues" and “Midnight Sun." He once estimated that he performed his best-known composition, “Flyin' Home," more than 300 times a year from 1937 to 1987.

Over the decades, Hampton was a consistent winner of annual polls as the best vibes player, and a Berlin street, Hamptonstrasse, and the music school of the University of Idaho were named in his honor.

He pioneered the use of the vibraphone as a jazz instrument and was a mentor to future jazz greats whom he showcased in his band, including Quincy Jones, Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Earl Bostic, Fats Navarro, Joe Williams and Dinah Washington. Hampton also was a leading figure in the racial integration of music, joining the all-white Benny Goodman quartet in 1936 and touring with the Goodman orchestra.

In an era when integrated groups were not accepted for bookings in American music halls, and black musicians had trouble finding accommodations in most cities, Goodman insisted that arrangements be made for Hampton to travel with him.

Hampton said later, “I didn't recognize that it was a social advancement, but it was the first time blacks and whites ever played together out in public."

Hampton played the vibraphone, which has metal keys that are hit with soft mallets that produce vibrating tones, with lightning swiftness and harmonic and melodic simplicity, and he played the drums with a fierce, driving rhythm.

He became widely known after recording such hits as “Moonglow" and “Dinah" with Goodman in the 1930s and he toured internationally over the last 30 years. Lionel Hampton, 94, the frenetic jazz vibraphonist, gifted bandleader and storied showman who was one of the most celebrated musicians of the swing era and went on to a six-decade career on the American stage, died Saturday in a hospital in New York after a heart attack.

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Photo Credit: Hans Kumpf

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