It was a week of moving musical tributes at the 35th Annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho last month. The most moving tribute was paid to the 93-year-old "King of Vibraphone" Lionel Hampton, whose appearance on the festival's closing night earned a much-deserved standing ovation.
Hundreds of musicians, ranging from members of high school and college bands to international recording stars, descended upon the University of Idaho to be a part of the four-day festival named after jazz's guiding light, Lionel Hampton.
Surrounded by his 17-piece big band, Lionel Hampton was all smiles as he tapped in time to "Flying Home" on his silver and gold plated vibraphone. Even when he wasn't center stage, "Hamp" still managed to be the center of everyone's attention.
Trumpeter Clark Terry recalled the good times playing in Lionel Hampton's Orchestra more than 50 years ago. "It was a great, great experience for me," he said, "such a beautiful feeling. He was always so inspiring and encouraging and motivating. He was always full of zest, vim and vigor, and he played so good. He always played good. I don't know if he ever thought about the possibility of playing bad. I don't think it ever crossed his mind."
Clark Terry was part of a special guest concert featuring The Ray Brown Trio, The Roy Hargrove Quintet, saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, and a Festival Quartet consisting of pianist Mulgrew Miller, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist John Clayton and drummer Lewis Nash. The Quartet also accompanied trumpeter Claudio Roditi and trombonists Slide Hampton and Jay Ashby in a special tribute to legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
Another famed trumpeter Conte Condoli was remembered in a concert featuring Conte's brother Pete on trumpet, Bud Shank on saxophone, Bill Watrous on trombone, and the Festival Quartet.
A tribute to the late baritone sax great Gerry Mulligan featured three of today's leading baritone saxophonists: Ronnie Cuber, Howard Johnson and Claire Daly. Daly said she was one of the lucky few to see Gerry Mulligan's final performance.
"I saw his last gig," she said. "It was on the [cruise ship] Norway on one of those jazz cruises, and it was very moving. It was a beautiful concert and there was literally not a dry eye in the house. He'd been sick and everyone knew that he'd been sick and he just played beautifully."
"Flamingo" was performed by Ronnie Cuber, one of three members of the Baritone Sax Band paying tribute to Gerry Mulligan at the 35th Annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
In addition to the all-star concerts, performers spent their daytime hours giving clinics and workshops on the University of Idaho campus. More than 12,000 student musicians from 13 states, came to the festival to compete for scholarships and musical instruments as well as a chance to play on the festival stage.
Fifteen-year-old piano sensation Eldar Djangirov, winner of last year's student piano competition, returned this year as a headliner. Eldar said the biggest challenge to being a professional jazz musician is finding the time to tour. "It's kind of hard because I have school and tests and homework and practicing," he said. I practice everyday so I really don't have much time [to play concerts] as I would like for example."
From his self-titled debut album, Kansas City pianist Eldar Djangirov played Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't."
Also making a return visit to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival was vocalist Jane Monheit who dazzled the crowd with selections from the songbooks of Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Monheit said it takes a lifetime to learn to sing the classics. "When I was younger," she said, "I was so focused on picking things that were difficult and proving to everyone my knowledge of the harmony and that sort of thing. And now that I'm a little bit older I understand what these songs are really about."
This year, the Lionel Hampton School of Music awarded five scholarships to students majoring in Music Education and Instrumental Performance. Hampton himself was the recipient of the Distinguished Idahoan Award for his contribution to the preservation of jazz.
The outlook is bright for the Lionel Hampton Center, also located at the University, which plans to expand its International Jazz Collections, education and performance facilities and future Lionel Hampton Jazz Festivals.