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Lionel Hampton Score Donated to BGU

Lionel Hampton Score Donated to BGU

May 3, 2015

Social Sciences & Humanities

J Weekly — In the hours after a 1997 fire ravaged the New York apartment of jazz great Lionel Hampton, the distraught octogenarian asked his two assistants, “Where is my ‘King David Suite’?”

The pioneering jazz vibraphonist had composed the instrumental piece in 1953 as a tribute to the emerging State of Israel and his friend, David Ben-Gurion.


Mo Levich presents the “King David Suite” to BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi.

His assistants replied, according to The New York Times, that the sheet music and notes were destroyed. Gone were what were thought to be the only copies of the orchestral score and instrumental parts.

Unbeknownst to Hampton — or anybody until 2008, six years after Hampton’s death — was that a copy of the score, with Hampton’s original notes and comments, had been filed in the Rossmoor (Walnut Creek) home of Frank Como.

Como was Hampton’s arranger for 20 years, and he had tucked away a notated sheet of Hampton’s vibraphone part of the piece.

The score was recently donated to the Ben-Gurion Archives located on BGU’s Sde Boker campus.

The 20-minute “King David Suite” is a Third Stream work, meaning it weaves Western classical music with jazz elements. While Hampton wrote it in 1953, it “was just bits and pieces that he used when he played with symphony orchestras,” says Como now 93 years old.

“They were not scored as a full suite. It wasn’t a complete composition.”

A suite is a single piece with various musical themes that move from one to another with no stops, which is what it became in 1970 after Hampton brought the piece to Como. “He wanted me to orchestrate it [so] I took those themes, and then I added the jazz part,” says Como, who worked with Hampton from 1968 to 1988.

Recently, with the help of Maurice “Mo” Levich of Lafayette, the documents were delivered to Israel. Levich, on the Jewish Federation of the East Bay’s annual community trip to Israel, presented the score to BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi on April 22, 2015 on behalf of Como.

Levich says he was “extremely excited and honored” that the piece of music will now be in a place “where people can see and study it. The music lives on as a survivor of time and fire.”

Levich’s connection to the piece is through his friendship with Como. The two men are the directors of the Big Band of Rossmoor, a staple for nearly 25 years at the huge East Bay adult community.

“Frank was in agreement,” says Levich before he left for Israel. “If Ben-Gurion was Lionel’s friend — and he was — then the score should go to Ben-Gurion University.”

Levich says Frank Como decided to donate the score to the Archives after attending a local Americans for Ben-Gurion University event.

No commercial recording of the suite exists. Click here to listen to to a 1979 performance of the work at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Watch a CBS broadcast about the Hampton score find and donation to BGU>>