The Howard Theatre, from the late teens (when Duke Ellington was painting some of its backdrops) until the late '60s, was the city's major venue of jazz, rhythm and blues and early rock. Charlie Hampton's name looms large in the history of the Howard; he was the saxophone-playing leader of the 16-piece house band from 1964 to 1972.
Hampton's father, a pianist, owned a club in Greenville, S.C., where Hampton played piano from the age of 16. Presented with the choice of glockenspiel or a wind instrument in the high school marching band, he opted for saxophone. Later, when Army duty took him to Europe, he studied clarinet and piano at Munich's Mozart Conservatory. In the early '60s he enrolled at Howard University and he continued his musical studies at D.C.'s Modern School of Music. Nightclub engagements over the years have put Hampton on the stand with Earl Hines, Lou Rawls, Little Esther Phillips and many others.
"The Temptations, the O'Jays, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Dionne Warwick -- we just did it all," recalls Hampton of those years at the Howard Theatre. "The band used to do an opening of jazz tunes. It was fantastic, the balcony and everything was filled." Hampton, who plays most of the reeds, flute and piano, will be featured today at 4 p.m. on alto and soprano saxophones and flute in the Lettumplay "Sunday Jazz Series" at the Lansburgh Cultural Center, 420 Seventh St. NW. Reuben Brown will be at the piano, Steve Novosel on bass and Warren Shadd at the drums. The quartet will offer a program of bebop, older standards, contemporary materials and originals.