Carbonite Hampton

For the second time in two years, I have been treated to a trip to Moscow, Idaho to take in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Last time around I was with the University Jazz Ensemble. This year was with our jazz choir Park Avenue. We performed/competed early on the first morning of the festival to an audience that seemed mostly to consist of people who barely know how to comb their own hair — kids. Don't know exactly why there were so many of them. Guess teachers must've ran out of origami project to torture them with. Actually, I'm really pleased to see that people so young are being exposed to jazz. I wish I had similar exporsure. For me, music in elementary school consisted of second hand tapes received/stolen from siblings. Among others, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and the Back to the Future soundtrack.

Anyway, the jazz choir did really well. We sang nearly to our potential despite a strang audio system set up. You know it's bad when you can hear no bass and more alto than your own voice. I also don't believe our energy and stage presence weren't up to par. One of our ajudicators, Frank DeMiro, worked with us afterward. He had some great ideas and embodied an excitement that was nice to see in a vocal professional. He seemed really enamored to our group and not because he pitied us.

The rest of the trip was a great one full of cramped living quarters and clinics from the pros. Got to be an audience member in a clinic given by trombonists Bill Watrus and Al Grey and a vocal/combo clinic (or gawking session, whichever you prefer) by Diana Krall. Both were very informational and featured great performances by the respective performers. In Diana Krall's clinic, however, people seemed to have no other ability but to ask stupid, even rude questions. Ranging anywhere from personal queries to questions that would ramble on for a fraction of the clinics alotted time. Like I stated before, I did learn some things that will stay with me musically.

Now, as for Lionel himself, I have only one word: carbonite. Throughout this entire festival (both years I've attended) I've had the overwhelming feeling that Lionel is nothing more than an exotic animal in a cheesy "Safari World" type of place. Honestly now. I know he is and most certainly was an incredible force in the jazz world. I just can't believe that they have a bronze statue of Hamp on stage during the entire festival. They didn't even remove it when "Gates" was brought on stage! The joke circulating around both young and old at the festival was that once a year, the festival planners take Lionel out of his carbonate state not unlike Han Solo's holdings in Star Wars.

All joking aside, I can't say that I don't like seeing him there nevertheless. You can just tell that there's still an amazing player just behind his eyes, wishing it could get out and play a crazy lick just one more time. I'm just afraid that it's not possible. One thing you could tell in his age-enabled, one mallet technique, "Gates" is still swingin'.


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posted Mar 1, 1999 under al grey, bill watrus, diana krall, frank demiro, idaho, lewiston, lionel hampton jazz festival, plu  


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December 31, 1969


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posted Dec 31, 1969  


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