How many living female singers can say that they sang with the Lionel Hampton Big Band? Sylvia Bennett auditioned for Hampton in the early 1980s and was immediately signed as the band's singer. She then toured Florida and performed with the Hampton Orchestra at the second Reagan inaugural as well as the same event for George Bush. Hampton recorded Sentimental Journey
in 1985 with Bennett as vocalist, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1987. A second album, There Will Never Be Another You
, was recorded two years later. It was never released and continued to languish in the vaults until Sylvia Bennett decided to bring it to the music industry's attention.
So, in effect, this album represents one of the last efforts of the famous vibraphonist. It was recorded in Florida under unusual circumstances. Inasmuch as Hampton was most comfortable at home, the actual recording process was accomplished in his large kitchen, where he and Bennett supplied the finishing touches to the album. Most of the big band backing was recorded in a studio. Bennett and Hampton, listening on headphones, provided the music directly from the kitchen. In place of his traditional vibraphone, Hampton used a vibraphone synthesizer and utilized his signature two-finger keyboard style.
The album itself consists of fourteen tracks which alternate between instrumentals and vocal tracks with Sylvia Bennett. The songs are largely familiar titles like "Just One of Those Things," "Bill Bailey" and "It Might As Well Be Spring," with the addition of some swing-type titles for the instrumentals like "Cookin' in the Kitchen" (aka "Jumpin' at the Mudhole") and "Beulah's Boogie." Bennett's voice is admirable, with a clear and bright tone and good enunciation of the lyrics, but in this setting she remains a big band singer without any real jazz overtones, leaning more toward cabaret or pop. The final two tracks are separate versions of "You Make My Heart Sing"; the closing selection is a disco remix. In 1989, this surely was an invitation intended to open some new doors for the Hampton Orchestra.
There is a 28-minute DVD accompaning the CD which purports to show "the making of the album," with camera work catching Hampton/Bennett planning, preparing and performing to record. There was obviously a great chemistry between the vibraphonist and vocalist and, considering that Hampton is now gone, there's a quasi-treasure chest of memories in some of this footage. Spliced in are stills and footage of Hampton leading an orchestra from earlier occasions.
One interesting sidebar from the DVD involves the footage of arranger Hal Batt, who evidently was borrowed from other musical genres to beef up the finished product. He was unfamiliar with the jazz standard "Red Top," which Hampton performed as one of the instrumentals. Batt's decision was to leave the selection as it was recorded. Thank goodness!!
Personnel: Lionel Hampton: vibraphone, synthesizer; Sylvia Bennett: vocals; Hall S. Batt: keyboards,
guitar, bass; Bobby Pancoast: keyboards; Hal Bonsanti, Billy Ross, Chip McNeil, Jeff King:
saxophones; Whit Sidener: baritone sax; Jim Hacker, Brett Murphy, Tony Luschen, John
Georgini: trumpets; Phil Gray, John Darling, Dana Teboe, Greg Cox: trombones; Sammy
Figueroa: percussion; Dave Hardman or Gotz Kujack: drums.