Stocked with 92 choice cuts spanning more than 20 years of restless musical activity, Proper's Lionel Hampton Story is the ideal companion for housework, yard work, ambulation, celebration, feasting, carousing, and late-night, long-distance driving. Although the producers chose not to include examples from his recording debut as a singing drummer with Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders in 1929, the first disc of this set is a richly rewarding distillation of 15 late-'30s Victor sessions which represent a formidable all-star census of the most accomplished jazz instrumentalists on the scene in New York at that time. Granted full artistic freedom by a record company staffed with individuals who knew potential success when they saw and heard it, Hampton regularly borrowed players from the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. He seemed to thrive by combining and contrasting great musical minds in the cauldron of the recording studio. There was also a tendency to emerge from behind the vibraphone and attack a different instrument, as is evidenced by his duet with Clyde Hart on "Piano Stomp," and his masterful drum solo on "Jack the Bellboy," supported by most of the King Cole Trio. Some of these lineups are vertigo-inducing, like the date where Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Chu Berry, and Benny Carter square off with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Christian. While Hamp's output from this period is substantially greater than what fits onto this disc, the selections are well chosen.
What's impressive and very exciting is the way each consecutive volume in this set illustrates the mingled influences of swing, bop, and boogie-woogie which fed the fires of the emerging style known as rhythm & blues. As Disc Two pulls the listener through the early '40s by following a trail of Decca records, the music starts to cook more insistently, and most of the material is based in the jump blues and boogie book. The band is bigger and brassier, with squealing trumpet licks by Cat Anderson and gutsy outbursts by saxophonists Illinois Jacquet, Earl Bostic, Al Sears, and Arnett Cobb. Another trumpeter to listen for is Joe Morris, an ambitious individual who in 1946 went directly from his position as arranger for Hamp's band to his own extended gig as leader of the house R&B band for Atlantic records. The plot thickens with the appearance of saxophonist Johnny Griffin and eight valuable sides from November, 1947 featuring bassist and composer Charles Mingus, the most remarkable being Ming's highly advanced opus "Mingus Fingers." A leap to January, 1949 dramatizes Hamp's return to fundamental, boogie-based mayhem with a series of rockers featuring double-fisted pianist Albert Ammons. On a considerably cooler note, Hamp's mellow take on the old Hudson-DeLange ballad "Moonglow" is cushioned with careful comping by 24-year-old guitarist Wes Montgomery. In addition to Hamp himself, vocalists heard on this collection include Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Bing Crosby, Sonny Parker, Joe James, and a group billed as the Hamp-Tones.