WALNUT CREEK (KPIX 5) – Lionel Hampton was a jazz bandleader and “king of the vibraphone” for half a century. But when a five-alarm fire ripped through his Manhattan apartment in 1997, the 83-year-old lost everything, including his prized symphony.
“The first thing after he was rolled down in a wheelchair was, ‘Where is my King David?'” said Maurice Levich of Generations in Jazz in Walnut Creek.
The King David Suite was Lionel’s score for a 100-piece symphony.
“(It was) lost, burned, missing. Did not survive,” said Levich.
And in 2002, Lionel Hampton died, believing there were no remaining copies of his beloved King David Suite. But the story doesn’t end there, thanks to Levich and Frank Como, also from the group Generations in Jazz.
93-year-old Como arranged Hampton’s music for 20 years. At Hampton’s request, he orchestrated King David Suite in 1971 as an unusual blend of classical and jazz with spiritual themes.
“This is something a lot of people didn’t know,” Como explained. “Lionel was a really religious person. He used to read the Bible and carry it with him when he played.”
Hampton performed King David in 19 countries. It was a tribute to his friend, David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister. King David Suite was a lesser-known work.
In fact, Levich had never heard of it when he happened to meet the Phil Schaap, the jazz curator at the Lincoln Center, years after the Manhattan fire.
Schaap asked Maurice Levich to find King David Suite.
Levich asked Como, “What is King David?”
Como dug out the original score he’d kept in storage, not knowing anyone was interested.
He had all 119 priceless pages he notated by hand. It was the last copy of the 20-minute symphony.
“It burned. It was lost. It was found,” said Levich.
On Como’s behalf, Levich brought the music to its new, permanent home, Ben Gurion University in Jerusalem on April 22. Resurrected, for a new generation.