Savannah jazz producer and singer Jacey Falk has assembled an all-star line-up to salute his former musical mentor Lionel Hampton at the 33rd annual Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park Sunday at 7 p.m.
Today, legendary Hampton orchestra alumni and admirers, including Red Holloway, Candido, Curtis Fuller and Russell Gunn begin flying into the city to join two-time Grammy-winning vocalist Diane Schuur and drummer Jason Marsalis to pay musical tribute to the vibraphonist who died in 2002 at age 94.
“I was fresh out of college when I went to work for Mr. Hampton,” Falk reflects to Intel. “I was 20 and he was 90. But he taught me how to put on a show. Even at age 90 and in a wheelchair following a stroke, that man still put on a show. It was an event.”
Falk may have earned employment with Hampton after informing the jazz great that he had written lyrics to his classic, “Flying Home.”
“He had just awakened from his nap,” recalls Falk, laughing. “There is Mr. Hampton in his pajamas and his bath robe, rubbing his eyes. He loved the lyrics. He told me, ‘Write ’em down, I want to sing them!’ We ended up talking for two hours!”
One of Schurr’s favorite portions of the show is when she sings the Hampton hit, “Midnight Sun,” first popularized by Ella Fitzgerald on her 1957 album, “Like Someone in Love.”
When we rang Schuur, the first thing she did was burst into the opening line, singing: “Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice, warmer than the summer night. . .”
The blind singer then adds slyly: “I just love the way the song describes the lips. It’s so incredibly romantic. How can you not feel better after hearing that?!”
Schuur and the alumni of Hamp’s band first teamed up two years ago for a pair of gigs in New York celebrating the vibe master’s extensive catalog.
“I’ve sung with a lot of ghost bands like Duke Ellington‘s and Count Basie‘s and this one,” says Schuur. “What I love about them is while the band’s namesakes are no longer physically here, we can continue to celebrate their music and their spirit with these great tunes and great musicians.”
Adds Falk: “So much jazz out there today is pure garbage. It’s an honor to be able to bring Mr. Hampton’s work out to an appreciative audience like the Atlanta Jazz Festival. My mother first took me to see Lionel Hampton when I was eight. I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s great to be able to bring such happy, fun music to people. You’re bringing a sea of joy to people for a little while.”