Duane Thamm with the Chuck Hedges Swingtet

Tribute to Hamp

by Robert R. Calder

8 August 2004


Quality Vibes

The vibist Duane Thamm is a Chicagoan, if less comprehensively so than his partner on this set, the clarinetist Chuck Hedges. Hedges is now based in Milwaukee, but what could be called his essential Chicagoness (an awful phrase, I admit) is a matter of his style on his horn.

Eighty years ago, the sounds produced by budding orthodox Chicagoans’ clarinets began to veer south. The consequent sound was less broad, less immediately expressive than the black or Creole New Orleanian ones adopted by such non-white Chicagoans as Omer Simeon and Darnell Howard. It heats up quickly and intensifies into something still less broad, flexible, favouring rapid fingering. It gives a first impression of maybe being in a higher register, and that gives a yet more exciting soaring effect when the upper register is in fact turned to.

cover art

Duane Thamm With the Chuck Hedges Swingtet

Tribute to Hamp

US: 16 Mar 2004
UK: Available as import

By the time he lifted Lionel Hampton’s name to the prominence its bearer deserved for the following 65 years, the younger Benny Goodman’s very interesting singularly reedy version of what has been called the Chicago clarinet style had disappeared. That supremely accomplished master had refined his playing into something amazingly at once both European-legit and jazz-hot. It had various followers, but Chuck Hedges works from the roots lots of neo-Goodman players lacked. He plays with a nice lightness.

Besides that, another factor differentiates this combination of clarinet and vibraphone etcetera from that which Goodman and Hampton achieved. The rhythm section here is guitar, bass and drums, with no piano. I’ve not heard Hedges’s own recordings with vibes and piano in his band, but I’m interested.

It’s especially stimulating when one group has notable but only superficial resemblances with another. A minute or two, and listening and hearing sharpen, and distinctive features emerge. I had a lecture on one case of this from a fellow admirer of the clarinet-vibes-piano-etc. band that the late and superior neo-Goodmanite Peanuts Hucko said he had been “awarded” or honoured with at one year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival. Mark Shane’s an excellent pianist, the English vibist Roger Nobes has a firm body to his sound, and the Scottish drummer Murray Smith (he died only weeks ago) did much for that ensemble’s deeply surging swing.

The rhythm here is, on the other hand, more flowing and guitar-centred. Frank Dawson has in fact the opening solo, on a speedy “The Man I Love”. Charlie Braugham’s cymbals swish with a movement like a rhythm guitarist’s. John Bany has a bowed bass solo. A band at home.

The incisiveness of Duane Thamm’s playing is beautifully balanced by the soft-edged rhythm, and works well within it when Dawson and Hedges solo on the slow “Memories of You”. Harmonically Thamm belongs to a post-Hampton generation, but he’s not ethereal or cool-orientated like later vibists.

The rhythm allows a lot of harmonic flexibility, and now and then Hedges gives hints of Buddy de Franco, even some French clarinetists I’ve heard (whose easy gracefulness he emulates, while outclassing them in other regards).

On the first tracks we do hear a lot of these guys. “Autumn Leaves” is fleet but relaxed, Thamm a discreet presence in guitar and clarinet-led passages. These althernate between stretches of unison, and stretches where solo passages are traded. A short “Come Sunday” with Hedges opening unaccompanied and the others coming in to complement what’s mostly melody restatement, is duly meditative.

The dafter side of Hampton is well-marked by Thamm’s taking the opening solo on “I Surrender, Dear” in a more Hampton-like style, but on chimes, sounding like a church bell carillion. He was surely right to regard the chimes feature as semi-comic when he introduced it to his act. Audiences apparently took it more seriously than he did, but it does actually capture a certain brazen side of Hampton.

He settles in well, back on vibes, with the rhythm accompaniment to another very decent guitar solo from Frank Dawson. The ensuing four-mallets cascade of a vibes solo perhaps reflects his relief after the opening on chimes. It’s almost a portrait of Lionel Hampton, rendered by a stylistically very different vibist.

The original Goodman routines on “Seven Come Eleven” are plainly at least as well-known to the band as to this reviewer. They’re not repeated but built on. The guitar opens with a knocked-out solo, and the clarinetist gives Thamm even more to follow, which he does with a very boppish delivery. The bassist quotes “Rhythm-a-Ning” in a solo which the drummer does not let lag. He knows his work. Instead of the contained heat of the original Goodman recording, there’s an affectionate, extremely spirited race, of more recent but comparable vintage.

Thamm opens “Moonglow”—the tune was an early Goodman-Hampton feature, but phrased very differently. Contrasting incisiveness with a feathered gentleness, Hedges takes his clue from the latter, lifting the pace at times then drifting dreamily. The vibist’s solo is strongly weighted, the clarinetist flies—as he does in the concluding “Avalon”. This is just the sort of set which duly stirred audiences when musicians old enough to have been candidates for Hampton’s late 1930s star-studded Victor recordings were still on really top form. It can still be done. I like the way the guitarist perks up in his solo on “Avalon”. Where were they all going on to afterward?

“Tribute” in the title of this CD might be a joke. In Britain at least, a big marketing sort of thing is made of the so-called “tribute”—which really involves imitations of for an obvious instance Sinatra, performed in a food and drink venue and suggesting that the interest is not so much musical as pseudo personal—“Frank” as old friend - and being able to hear live in a venue what you could otherwise hear only at home off a record. Wrong-way round.

Researching under-recorded musicians of the past can sometimes take the historian to records labelled “music of…” or indeed “tribute”, where the original performer wasn’t available or would have cost too much. One of those things might be a rare opportunity to hear a nearly legendary player too seldom on record as himself. When sheer imitation didn’t happen, music could ensue. The less successful the players as ringers, the more valuable the recording.

Delmark Records, being for over 50 years now a major moral and musical institution in Chicago, this could never have been any sort of exploitation album. I’m not sure it was planned as an issued recording, the sound’s more of an ad hoc document of a concert (like the one long ago which preserved Hamp’s famous long ballad solo on ‘Stardust’). The applause and echoey acoustic do however add to a sense of the Chicago Lionel Hampton Memorial Concert as an event.

Thamm has such a big sound it would be good to hear him with some darker horns. A reference work I looked up mentioned his work outwith jazz as if it represented sheer choice—rather than maybe a contrast with working for the post office or as a security guard. High time some record came out under his name!

Besides which, if you’re in Milwaukee, check out Chuck Hedges. He surprised me!

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