Friday, March 5, 2010


Here in the great state of Texas, up towards Austin way, we have the trumpet/jazz equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. A very nice man, none other than Hannibal Lokumbe.

A native of Smithville, Texas, formerly known as Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson, he first got on my radar screen in the early 1970's when I was in junior high and playing drums in the school band. Hannibal was then playing trumpet with avaunt garde bandleader, arranger and composer Gil Evans, and lots of other folks.
Playing in Gil's band then were a lot of great musicians who are pretty well known in several genres of music, and I'll talk about some of them later. My junior high and high school band directors just thought his music was "IT", and they often played it for some of us who had an interest in jazz and rock and blues and the in-between where the Gil Evans Orchestra of the 1970's and 1980's often lay. Likewise, the other drummers and kids in the band often traded albums back and forth of various artists they liked, and many of these albums were jazz albums of various types.

How Jimi, Gil and Hannibal all come together in an essay is because of the music of Jimi Hendrix, and the love of that music by Gil Evans and Hannibal.

Folks who don't know jack about jazz music, like one of my Austin friends, will say things about Hannibal like "He used to play with Fats Domino". I don't know if that's true, but I know his sister used to sing backup for Fats. But playing with Fats ain't what Hannibal is world famous for. There are many things he's made a name of himself musically regarding, but perhaps the most interesting to me personally is the Jimi Hendrix connection.

Hannibal says in a recent Austin Chronicle article that he never met Jimi. Back in those days, Hannibal's oft-times employer in the early 70's through the mid 80's was famed conductor, arranger, composer and jazz pianist Gil Evans. This Austin Chronicle article from last month is a pretty informative story about Hannibal and they only missed one stellar moment on the album pictured above. Here's the story
The article mentions that Hannibal sang the vocal on the tune "Crosstown Traffic", but he also sang the stunning end of song vocals on the legendary "Little Wing".
Little Wing is a much covered song. There are numerous of versions of it out there by
many famous artists. Some of my favorites include those by Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
But my absolute favorite version is by The Gil Evans Orchestra. If you're a fan of horns and music that features very tasty horn playing, and if you're open to listening to a unique mix of jazz, rock, r&b and soul in Gil's arrangements of some of Hendrix's more popular work, then you'll love this album.
Playing lots of trumpet solos throughout this album is Hannibal. Hannibal's website
Hannibal hails from Smithville, Texas, but the late sixties found him playing trumpet in New York City, which of course was the only real destination for a gifted young trumpeter looking to have a career in music. It was a heady time of change and experimentation, of course, in many aspects, including music, society, culture and so many other aspects. And Hannibal was no different.
Although he began his own orchestra back in the thirties, Gil Evans rose to fame in the 50's as the composer and arranger of some of Miles Davis's early works that shot Miles to fame. Later, moving on to his own progressive jazz compositions, Evans became known himself for his unique mastery of many forms of jazz, which ranged from traditional to highly electric and improvisational. Gil played the keyboards, often in the 1970's and 1980's he was perched behind an electric Fender Rhodes piano, a very expressive and interesting instrument.

Hannibal, then known as Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson, played with Gil for many years, beginning in the early 1970s. At that time, Gil Evans was fascinated with the music of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix, legend has it, had tired of record companies dictating what his albums should sound like and had all kinds of unique musical visions as to where he imagined his music would go. I'll note that on every album or cd that I have of Gil Evans where Hannibal appears, Hannibal generally gets featured artist or second billing, right behind Gil, on Gil's albums. That's saying something.

At the same time, the late 1960's and the early 1970's, jazz was going through some changes as well. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis set a benchmark for adding electric instruments and beats to jazz stylings, and numerous other bands made their marks in the those days with their own unique forms of jazz rock. Fusion would soon follow, but in these days before the birth of what I think of as fusion jazz music, rock and jazz never came closer as they did with Miles, with The Tony Williams bands , The Gil Evans Orchestra and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Hendrix was there too, buddy. All of these musical folks were traveling the same highways, as it were, and Gil Evans arranged to do some composing and recording with Hendrix. Everyone except the Hendrix's record company was thrilled at the entry of Hendrix via Gil Evans into this new jazz rock fray, and recording time was booked, with those dreams only to be dashed by the untimely death of Jimi.

Undaunted, Gil Evans decided that if he couldn't make new music with his friend Jimi, he would honor the music Jimi had already written by rearranging it and performing it with his unique Gil Evans Orchestra.

And that's where Hannibal comes into the picture. A quick review of who was in the Gil Evans Orchestra at the time of the release of The Gil Evans Orchestra plays the music of Jimi Hendrix is stout enough to amaze even the amateur music fan. Future star David Sanborn on Alto Sax. Stellar jazz guitarists John Abercrombie and Ryo Kawasaki on electric guitar. Marvin "Hannibal" Peterson on trumpet and lead vocals (more on this in a moment).
There were many more talented folks in Gil's orchestra, but those are the names that will catch the eye of the casual music listener from that era. Oh, and two more members that later were famous for being in the first Saturday Night Live band in the mid-70's, a goodly portion of which then became The Blues Brothers Band, namely Tom "Bones" Malone and Lew Soloff. These guys have played in lots of bands since then and are great players.

The Gil Evans Hendrix album is all instrumental, save for Little Wing and Crosstown Traffic, sang by none other than Hannibal. He also plays a fearsome trumpet solo in little wing, a moving emotional solo that echos the emotion feel of Gil's interpretation of this Hendrix classic.

Again, many other artists have had success with Little Wing. Clapton, Beck, Stevie Ray and Eric Johnson are among the guitar legends who have done justice to this Hendrix classic of the blues. Stevie Ray's version earned him a grammy in the 1980's. It's a popular song.

But none of those, save for the original by Hendrix, contain the same moving vocals that Hannibal delivers on Little Wing. The Evans version begins as an instrumental, but at the end of the song, Hannibal sings the verse and chorus, upon which the song ends amidst a sparse bass and drum accompaniment.

Indeed, Evan's Little Wing is not guitar dominated, instead having a distorted bass lead-in followed by a horn dominated melody. The electric guitars are there, in Gil's version, to be sure, and they are playing some rocking guitar, but they are under the sea of horns and synths and bass and most of all, Hannibal's trumpet and eerily-captivating vocals.

But for me, an ardent Hendrix fan and a guy who thinks Little Wing might be one of the best love songs ever written, it's a special song. His vocals and trumpet are the only thing that comes close, in my opinion, to the emotion that Hendrix conveyed in 1967 when he first recorded the song. There are, as with many songs, several levels and interpretations that can come from this song. It's nice to know that Hannibal is a fellow Texan.

I can't help but wonder what Little Wing would have sounded like with both Hannibal, Gil and Hendrix sharing the stage with Gil's band, with Hannibal and Hendrix sharing vocals, and and Hannibal, Hendrix, Evans, Sanborn and others soloing off of each other. It never happened, but boy, the earth might have momentarily stopped if they had performed that song together.

I would recommend the Gil Evans plays the music of Jimi Hendrix if you're curious about Hannibal and his great talents but you're not really a jazzer. If you like rock, or Hendrix, and you'd like to hear an extremely talented orchestra interpret some of his best works, than get it. You're not likely to find it at Barnes and Noble or Best Buy, but you can get it on Amazon and any number of other online music sellers.

Many people like me, who were raised with classic rock and love all kinds of classic rock still, bemoan the fact there is no "good" new music. Well friends, let me invite you to travel back to 1974, when Gil Evans, with the help of Hannibal and other stellar musicians, pay tribute to the genius that was Hendrix.

Hannibal is the same kind of musical individualist that Jimi Hendrix was. That's a bold statement, I know. I'm not saying he's better, I'm not saying he's worse. That really doesn't matter. They're in the same class, in terms of inventiveness. Making something new, that no one has ever heard before. And being very joyful about it. The one thing you take away from seeing Hannibal play live is the joy that he brings to his music and his playing.

Several years ago, Billy Ray and I saw world famous guitarist Eric Johnson share the stage with Hannibal at a benefit for a Texas charity for children. It was at a private home, an expensive, large, expansive and absolutely fancy home. A jazz band composed of some of the best of Texas jazzers from Houston, Austin and Dallas were on stage backing the Eric and Hannibal. After finishing a jazz tune, Eric busted into the intro to "Voodoo Chile" (if memory serves).
He and Hannibal did a call and response for an extended intro. A very extended intro. You could see the look of absolute admiration and awe in Eric's eyes at the riffs Hannibal was throwing out. Eric at one point appeared stunned with the brilliance of the riffs Hannibal was blowing.
Not everyone knew what was going on, but Billy Ray and I did.
Billy Ray has been subjected to listening to this album on many occasions by me over much of the course of our near thirty year friendship, and he has heard me go on and on about the greatness of this album on many other occasions. Billy Ray likes this album, but for himself would probably pick something by The Who, Led Zeppelin or Hendrix as his all time favorite album.
What was happening onstage with Eric and Hannibal was that Hannibal had been rocking "Voodoo Chile: Slight Return" with a bunch of wild, talented and improvisational musicians for many, many years playing with Gil Evans. When Eric threw down with his admittedly excellent version, well, Hannibal had a few things of his own to throw down. It was just an amazing event that I'm glad I got to see.
If you like jazz, then you probably already know about Gil Evans and his importance as a bandleader, composer and arranger. This Jimi Hendrix tribute by Gil, although recorded nearly 40 years ago, remains a very accessible musical vehicle for anyone who loves Hendrix and might like to hear a very talented take on his music, done with lots of admiration and little commercial viability in mind. In other words, done for the music.
Gil Evans died in the late 1980's, but lived a full musical life. His 1980's "Live at Sweet Basil's" double album features a 20 minute version of "Stone Free" that simply rocks the casbah.
To close out this lengthy article, I'll include a wiki link in case you want to know more about Gil Evans:

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