“Jivin’ with Jarvis” (1940) Lionel Hampton with the Nat “King” Cole Trio

“Jivin’ with Jarvis”

Composed by Lionel Hampton; informal “head” arrangement.

Recorded by Lionel Hampton for Victor on July 17, 1940 in Hollywood.

Lionel Hampton, vibraphone, directing: Nat “King” Cole, piano; Oscar Moore, electric guitar; Wesley Prince, bass; Al Spieldock, drums.

The story:

On July 10 1940, Benny Goodman, literally doubled over with pain from what had become a severe and chronic back problem, left his band, which was playing at the beautiful Casino Ballroom (1) on the island of Catalina off the southern California coast, twenty-two miles from Long Beach. This condition had reached a crisis point. Benny flew from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, and then was driven from there to Rochester, Minnesota, where he had surgery on his back on July 12 at the Mayo Clinic. Various reports had Ziggy Elman leading the band after Benny’s departure, with guest appearances by Artie Shaw and Kay Kyser for probably one night each, until they completed the engagement on July 13.  After completion of the Catalina gig, the first and most well-remembered Benny Goodman band, which had been operation since mid-1934, disbanded. (At right: Benny Goodman pictured outside the Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island, June-July 1940. Notice how thick Benny looks around his middle. This was because he was wearing a heavy brace around his waist then in an attempt to minimize his chronic back pain which radiated down one of his legs.)

Six of the men in Goodman’s band immediately began to work for Artie Shaw, who at that very time was organizing a new band in Los Angeles after not having one since the prior November. A number of key BG performers including trumpeters Ziggy Elman and Jimmy Maxwell, guitarist Charlie Christian, bassist Arthur Bernstein, vocalist Helen Forrest and arranger Eddie Sauter were retained, with Benny paying them their base salaries.

Vibraharpist/drummer/pianist Lionel Hampton may also have been retained by BG in this fashion. Soon however, Lionel, a dynamic performer who was exceedingly restless if he was not performing in front of audiences, began to add to his recorded output as a leader featured on Victor Records, and make moves that would within a few months lead to him forming his own big band.

The series of Victor recordings made by Lionel Hampton had begun in February of 1937 in New York, shortly after Lionel had moved there from Los Angeles to join the Benny Goodman Trio making it a Quartet. Initially, Lionel used musicians from Goodman’s band as his sidemen on these recordings. But as jazz musicians in New York began to hear and become familiar with Lionel’s work, they made it clear that they would be happy to work with him on records. Although Hampton continued, on occasion, using members of Benny Goodman’s band on his Victor recordings into early 1940, he also provided many opportunities for some of the greatest jazz musicians of the time who were not affiliated with BG to record with him from April of 1937 until the series ended in April of 1941, by which time Hampton had become the leader of his own band.

Lionel Hampton began his career playing drums for the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band, led by major N. Clark Smith, while still a teenager in Chicago. He moved to California in 1927 or 1928, playing drums for the Dixieland Blues-Blowers. During the late 1920s, Hampton also worked with the Spikes Brothers band and Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders. It was with Howard that he made his first recording in 1929. Soon after that, Hampton joined the top Afro-American band in Los Angeles, led by Les Hite. The Hite band often played at Sebastian’s Cotton Club in the Culver City district of Los Angeles. From the very beginning, Hampton was a flamboyant showman. One of his trademarks as a drummer was his ability to do stunts with multiple pairs of sticks such as twirling and juggling without missing a beat. (2) During this period, he began practicing on the vibraphone. In 1930 Louis Armstrong came to California and hired the Les Hite band to back him in performances and on recordings. Armstrong was impressed with Hampton’s playing after hearing Hampton reproduce several of his trumpet solo on the vibraphone, and asked him to play behind him like that during his vocal choruses.

Thus began his career as a vibraphonist, popularizing the instrument in the process. Invented ten years earlier, the vibraphone is essentially a xylophone with metal bars, a sustain pedal, and resonators equipped with electric-powered fans that add tremolo.

The Les Hite band poses outside of Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, California 1931. The three men who are to the right are L-R: Louis Armstrong, Frank Sebastian and Les Hite. Lionel Hampton is the third man from the left in the line of musicians behind the automobile.

Hampton’s dynamism as a showman plus the contacts he made in Los Angeles in the four years he was a member of the Hite band ensured that he would be a working musician.(3) But Hampton wanted to understand more about music after he began playing the vibraphone more seriously. In the early 1930s, he studied music at the University of Southern California. I suspect that Hampton’s studies included harmony, because his later playing on vibraphone often reflected marvelously creative uses of harmony. Hampton continued to expand his career by working with composer/conductor musical entrepreneur Nathaniel (Nat) Shilkret, who beginning in 1935, was musical director at the RKO film studio. In 1936, Hampton worked in a film produced by Columbia Pictures, Devil’s Playground aka The Depths Below, which was a remake of director Frank Capra’s 1928 film Submarine. Also in 1936, Hampton appeared as the masked drummer in the Bing Crosby/Columbia film Pennies From Heaven. Louis Armstrong also appeared in this film. (Composer/arranger William Grant Still also worked on this film, though his participation is uncredited.) (4)

Hampton formed his own nine-piece band probably in late 1935 or early 1936. The band broke-in in Oakland, California and then returned to Los Angeles for what eventually became a famous engagement at the Paradise Club, “…a seedy sailor bar at Sixth and Main that was beginning to attract an upscale Hollywood crowd, lured by (Hampton’s) playing and showmanship.” (5) There is a good bit of confusion about what the Paradise Club was really like. The picture of it presented in the 1955 Universal film The Benny Goodman Story is, like much of that movie, fictional and inaccurate. (One of the lines from that film, spoken by Dora Goodman, the matriarch of the Goodman clan, “bagels and caviar don’t mix,” has always elicited laughter whenever the film was shown in my home.)

Inaccuracies of a different kind abound in Lionel Hampton’s autobiography, Hamp …An Autobiography by Lionel Hampton with James Haskins (1989). Nevertheless, I think it useful to cite Hampton’s own recollections about the Paradise Club, because that place was the jumping-off point for him, from successful local musician to a place in the national spotlight with Benny Goodman: “It was great having a steady gig at the Paradise Nightclub. …My band was big in L.A. The Paradise Nightclub was getting big too, thanks to us. …After I started playing there, Sam Ervine (the owner) had to put ropes up, there were so many people trying to get in. There was a doorman. There was a $1.50 cover charge.

People came from miles around to hear us. They included a lot of musicians. Nat Cole and his guitarist Oscar Moore came in one night. Nat hadn’t been on the coast from Chicago long. He didn’t even have a steady gig. He’d come out to California with a show and got stranded and didn’t have anywhere to go. He and I used to jam every day, and I was going around town trying to hip people to him. I liked his style of piano playing, but even more, I liked his singing. I was the one who kept telling him ‘Man, you sing. You sing.’  I knew he could sell the public on his singing. Finally, the manager of the Swanee Inn on North La Brea told him that if he could get a quartet together, he had a job. So Nat got Oscar, and then they started looking for a bassist. Nat took my bass player, Wesley Prince, away from me. But I couldn’t complain. Nat was a home boy out of Chicago. Nat never got a quartet together, but the King Cole Trio became famous…” (6) (Above right: Nat Cole circa 1940.)

The music:

This recording presents two greatly gifted jazz artists, Lionel Hampton on vibraphone, and Nat Cole on piano collaborating to maximum musical effect. The unity that is apparent among the musicians on this recording indicates to me that the participants were not only talented, they were very comfortable and inspired when they played together. (See comments of Nick Rossi below which will explain why that was so.) As a bonus, we hear the other two members of the King Cole Trio as it existed in 1940, guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince.

The final member of this ad hoc group was  drummer Al Spieldock. Spieldock was married to vocalist Helen Forrest (6A) at the time, and she undoubtedly asked Lionel Hampton to use him on the first Victor recording session on which he also featured the King Cole Trio, on May 10, 1940, on which Helen sang a tune. Spieldock performed quite well on both recording sessions, laying down a steady, swinging beat using brushes.

Hampton’s playing throughout this performance is superb. What he does harmonically and rhythmically is so right and it swings so easily that it immediately evokes in the listener a sense of joy. His vibraphone is clearly the centerpiece of this performance, but listen to the support he gets from the King Cole Trio: Nat’s comping of Hampton on piano is perfection. It takes musicians of enormous skill and sensitivity not to step on each other when both are playing chordal instruments like the vibraphone and the piano. The interplay between Hampton and Cole on this recording is a quintessential example of that skill. The same can be said of the minimalist, but tasty, comping Hampton gets from guitarist Oscar Moore. Also noteworthy are the brief but brilliant asides both Cole and Moore add at a couple of points, which are cleverly superimposed on Hamp’s gliding vibraphone playing. (All of this is captured beautifully by Victor’s Hollywood recording engineers under the direction of the masterful Harry Meyerson.) The humorous vocal interjections of the tune’s title are by the KCT.

A word about Oscar Moore’s sixteen-bar guitar solo, which to me suggests the influence of Charlie Christian. It is delightful, and you can read much more about it below in the comments of guitarist Nick Rossi. Nat Cole’s sixteen-bar outing is a superb example of relaxed yet stimulating swing. This is the playing of a master jazz pianist.

Hampton’s next chorus provides more of the same swinging joy as before. The bit of happy scatting heard at the end is by Lionel.

It is with great pleasure that I turn over the discussion of the music you hear in this delightful recording to guitarist and historian Nick Rossi, who lives and works in San Francisco, California. Nick will address what he hears in the guitar playing of the King Cole Trio’s Oscar Moore, and will add some historical context for this recording.

“This is so much I could say about the May/July 1940 Victor Records sessions led by Lionel Hampton featuring the King Cole Trio. But let me focus on guitarist Oscar Moore’s playing on ‘Jivin’ with Jarvis.’ Moore’s performance on this side illustrates the crossroads he was navigating then as a guitar player. Much of what we hear bears the unmistakable stamp of electric jazz guitar innovator Charlie Christian, but it is very much filtered through Oscar’s highly-personalized approach to the instrument, the development of which we can trace via recordings which stretch back to September 1937.” (Above left: The King Cole Trio – late 1930s: L-R: Wesley Prince, Nat Cole and Oscar Moore.)

“The musical language Oscar Moore utilizes on ‘Jarvis’ is very much that of Charlie Christian, and at least a couple of phrases that appear to have been lifted directly from the slightly older Mr. Christian. To the latter point: both guitarists were born in Texas, although those occasions were separated by five months and 300 miles. Setting Christian’s language and phrasing aside, it becomes quickly apparent how much of Moore’s own language was easily adapted by him from the acoustic to the electric guitar. Single-string guitar playing was nothing new to Oscar: we can hear evidence of this approach in his earliest (circa September 1938) recordings with Nat Cole and the nascent King Cole Trio, who were then generally known as King Cole’s Swingsters or King Cole and his Swingsters. (7) Among the first evidence of Moore playing an electric guitar are the recordings the King Cole Trio made with Lionel Hampton for Victor in May of 1940, followed by the July Victor session that included ‘Jivin’ with Jarvis.'”

“So what do I hear? Yes, I hear Christian without a doubt. I possibly hear some Django Reinhardt, with the qualification that, to the best of my current research, Moore never referred to Django as an influence or even acknowledged hearing him. Unfortunately, this speaks more to the scant amount of Moore interview material we have. That said, there are some characteristic Reinhardt-isms, which at the very least suggest Oscar may have been aware of the gypsy jazz master’s records on Decca, HMV/Victor, and Varsity that started filtering into the United States from 1937 onwards. And here is where waters get murky. We do know that guitar pioneer Eddie Lang was a major early influence on Oscar Moore, and that Lang’s records exerted some influence on Django as well. We also know guitarist Les Paul, who was prone to exaggeration, but was himself massively influenced by Reinhardt, later claimed to have participated in a two-way influence with Moore via their respective radio shows. But at the core of Oscar’s playing, I hear a deep connection to the blues, something that is never too far beneath the surface of his playing, even at his virtuosic best, when he demonstrated virtual telepathy with his musical partner of many years Nat Cole. (Above right: Oscar Moore – 1940s.)”

“Nevertheless, there is a much here to separate his playing from Charlie Christian’s. First, it should be noted that Charlie, even on his best recordings, was very compartmental in his approach to the instrument. His single-string solo voice was unquestionably well developed and distinctive. But when he wasn’t functioning as a horn, i.e. playing the melody line, playing a riff, or soloing; he adopted a fairly conventional swing era rhythm guitar approach by turning down the volume on his instrument and playing 4/4 time. He had great time, but it was a case of one or the other. Moore on the other hand, even this early in his ‘electric career,’ can be heard blurring the line between single-string soloing, obbligato playing, and rhythm accompaniment – all while tapping into the distinctive properties of an electric instrument (sustain, tone, etc.). Within a couple of years, he developed this to a remarkable degree, providing a clear template for what we now think of as modern electric jazz guitar playing. So while not quite developed, we can hear the some of the beginnings of that on this recording.”

“The other major difference between the electric styles of Christian and Moore is Oscar’s tone. While it is fairly common for say reed players to have very different tone when using the same horn, mouthpiece, and reed; it should be noted that Charlies and Oscar were using nearly identical instruments and amplifiers at this time, but had fairly different sounds. Yes, a lot of this is a result of one’s fretting fingers and amount of attack with the pick. But the instruments used by those pioneering guitarists had volume and tone controls which can have a big impact on sound. Moore tended to favor, particularly on these early records, a much more open sound than Christian. It’s less mellow, perhaps closer to an alto sax rather than a tenor sax – although that is a bit of a stretch. It’s perhaps subtle, but guitarists hear it, and anyone who has spent time with the particular types of guitars and amplifiers each of these players used can hear and understand what I’m talking about.”

“Later in his career, Oscar Moore named Christian as major influence. So we know there was a musical connection between the two. This is even more important when we put this in the context of a 1940 Lionel Hampton recording session. As noted above, Hampton was one of the lynchpins of the early King Cole Trio story. Trio bassist Wesley Prince had spent some time in Hampton’s 1936 L.A.-based working band. Cole and Moore quite possibly met at a Hampton gig or Hampton-led jam session in the summer of 1937, when Cole was newly arrived on the Coast. Hampton was an early, vocal supporter of the King Cole Trio, and would often jam with the group when he was in Los Angeles with the Goodman band.”

“To get even more micro on the matter, we know through a magazine report (Down Beat, September 1939, page 32), that Hampton would sit-in with the Trio at the Swanee Inn in Hollywood after wrapping up his night’s work with Goodman across town at the Victor Hugo in Beverly Hills during August 1939. It was at the end of the Hugo engagement that Charlie Christian arrived in Los Angeles, and very quickly joined the Goodman small group with Hampton. Knowing that Christian was an inveterate jammer, and considering Hampton’s enthusiasm about Charlie’s playing, it’s not a stretch to suspect that Lionel brought Charlie to the Swanee to jam with Oscar Moore and the King Cole Trio. And even if they did not cross paths in August of 1939, Christian was appearing on national radio broadcasts with Hampton (and Benny, of course) by the end of that month. The first commercial recordings of the Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christion (again featuring Lionel), became widely available by November 1939. Incidentally, that same September 1939 “Down Beat” piece mentions that Hampton announced his intentions to record with the King Cole Trio, suggesting to me that Cole and Co. would have been paying fairly close attention to Lionel’s activities throughout 1939 and into 1940.” (Many thanks Nick Rossi for sharing his expertise and insights. They have greatly enhanced this post.)

The title “Jivin’ with Jarvis” is a dedication to the Los Angeles radio personality Al Jarvis (1909-1970), who exerted strong and strategically placed efforts to promote and assist jazz artists like Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Nat “King” Cole, Stan Kenton and Andre’ Previn on his long-running radio show. He was also an early and effective pioneer is promoting equality between and among musicians of all colors. I have provided a link to a brief biography of Al Jarvis below.

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) There is confusion about where Benny Goodman broadcast from during the Catalina Casino Ballroom engagement, which ran from June 5 to July 13, 1940. It appears that the band was billeted at the lovely St. Catherine’s Hotel (Santa Catalina is Spanish for St. Catherine) on Catalina during the Casino Ballroom engagement. It has been reported that the few sustaining BG radio broadcast airchecks that have survived emanated from that Hotel. I wonder why those broadcasts would have originated at the Hotel instead of the Casino Ballroom. Goodman specialists, what do you think?

(2) Many decades later in the 1970s, I saw Hampton perform on the stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York as a part of a multi-artist show staged by impresario George Wein as a part of what was then called the Newport-New York Jazz Festival. While playing a manic drum solo, be began tossing (and dropping) his drumsticks. Hampton’s on-stage antics became more and more extravagant as he got older.

(3) Hampton’s employment with Les Hite’s band also included work in a number of other films including: Ex-Flame (1930), The Sport Parade (1932), Taxi (1932), Cabin in the Cotton (1933), Fast Workers (1933), and Sing, Sinner Sing (1933). This information comes from Loren Schoenberg’s notes for the Mosaic set of CDs entitled: The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor sessions 1937-1941.

(4) Information in this post about Nathaniel Shilkret, and the films Devil’s Playground and Pennies From Heaven, comes from the Wikipedia posts on each of these subjects.

(5) Swing, Swing, Swing ..The Life and Times of Benny Goodman (1993), by Ross Firestone, 181.

(6) Hamp …An Autobiography by Lionel Hampton with James Haskins (1989), 51-52.

(6A) Both Helen Forrest and Lionel Hampton were working with Benny Goodman in May of 1940.

(7) The Nat Cole discography begins with a recording session in Chicago for Decca on July 28, 1936. The group he recorded with then was called Eddie Cole’s Solid Swingsters, and on one of the four tracks recorded, Eddie Cole, Nat’s older bass-playing brother, not Nat, sings. In Los Angeles from September to November of 1938, Nat Cole, as the leader, pianist and sometimes featured singer of the King Cole Trio, recorded 21 tunes for Standard Transcriptions. In January of 1939, as the King Cole Swingsters, the King Cole Trio, augmented at times by the singing of Bonnie Lake and Juanelda Carter, recorded twelve tunes for the local Los Angeles record label D and S (Davis and Schwegler). From February of 1939 through May of 1940, the King Cole Trio recorded an additional 50 tunes for Standard Transcriptions. It appears that the King Cole Trio also made one four-tune recording session for Varsity Records in February of 1940.

For those who want to explore the role of the guitar in the swing era before the arrival of Charlie Christian on the scene, check out this wonderful article by San Francisco guitarist Nick Rossi:  https://acousticguitar.com/string-kings-of-harlem-swing-the-captivating-rhythms-of-freddie-green-john-trueheart-bernard-addison-morris-white-and-al-casey/

Here is a link to Lionel Hampton’s most famous recording. Don’t miss the story about half way through the post about the time Lionel followed Louis Armstrong in a 1960s performance. It is priceless. https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/07/19/flying-home-lionel-hampton/

Here is a link to a funny story involving Nat Cole and his friend and fellow pianist, George Shearing, and more great piano jazz by Mr. Cole: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/09/23/the-smell-of-money-george-shearing-and-nat-king-cole/

Here is the link to the Al Jarvis biography: https://omnilogos.com/al-jarvis-pioneer-disc-jockey/

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you SO very much for the opportunity to contribute to your fantastic blog, Mike. This is an excellent detailed digest of Hampton’s early story and illustrates his many musical intersections with ease and clarity. As always, I look forward to reading your next article.

  2. You mentioned a guest appearance by Artie Shaw with the Goodman band when Benny was having back surgery. Hopefully that appearance include Artie playing with the band. I would have lvoed to heard that.
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