Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Slide Hampton!

April 21

Trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton is born in Jeannette, PA, in 1932. No relation to Lionel, Slide has been part of the foundation of progressive, tasteful jazz for almost 60 years–as a trombonist but even more as an arranger and creator of unorthodox ensembles such as the World of Trombones (nine trombonists) and a co-op quintet called Continuum. Hampton’s first major gig, in 1955, was with Budd Johnson (another multi-talented musician who made major, manifold contributions under cover of record sleeves). Slide was a major creative force in Maynard Ferguson’s big band from 1957 to 1959. Hampton also worked with bands led by Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Barry Harris, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and Max Roach, contributing both original compositions and arrangements. In 1962, he formed the Slide Hampton Octet, which included superb trumpeters Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard, and saxophonist George Coleman. After one of the band’s European tours, in 1968, Hampton became part of a growing expatriate community of stellar American musicians for almost a decade. Upon his return he continued his steady activity — besides the World of Trombones and Continuum, he worked on several tribute projects, such as the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars, with whom he toured the world. In 2006, he formed his own “Ultra” Big Band. Listen to the World of Trombones’ rendition of Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In,” here:

Guitarist Mundell Lowe is born in Laurel, MS, in 1922. If the name “Mundell Lowe” isn’t more well-known, it’s not due to a lack of industry or a foreshortened career. Lowe, who has played professionally for 75 years, spent most of that time behind the scenes–as a sideman on many jazz recordings and as a composer, arranger and studio player for film and, especially, television. He started off playing traditional musics–of New Orleans and Nashville–in the 1930s. After serving in World War II, he hopped aboard the last train out of the Swing Era, hitching onto the orchestra of drummer Ray McKinley in the late 1940s. After moving to New York City, he took part in the burgeoning world of Off-Broadway theater as both musician and actor. Things got rolling for him in the mid-1950s, when he got a job working in the Today show band while concurrently playing with pianist Billy Taylor’s group, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and his own band. Lowe moved to Los Angeles and for two decades wrote and arranged for deathless TV shows such as I Dream of Jeannie and films such as Billy Jack. In the 1980s, Lowe gradually phased out writing in favor of his first love, playing the guitar. In his career, he has accompanied the creme de la creme of vocalists: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae. Lowe’s resume also is full of legendary instrumentalists: Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. He introduced pianist Bill Evans to Riverside records producer Orrin Keepnews, which led to Evans’s first recordings as a leader. Lowe himself has recorded over a dozen albums under his own name, full of the well-articulated melody lines and subtle harmonic changes that so enamored him to other musicians. Lowe also taught at a leading music school in California for many years. He’s 93 years old–and it’s about time that he writes his autobiography. While we’re waiting for that, listen to him solo on a wild Georgie Auld & His All-Stars performance of Neal Hefti’s tune, “Lucky Duck,” from 1953, here:

Lowe comes in around the 4:45 mark.

Pianist Chick Corea records the solo album Piano Improvisations, in 1971. Listen to “Noon Song,” a Corea composition, here: