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Monday, 23 May 2016

Humphrey Lyttelton born 23 May 1921

Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton (23 May 1921 – 25 April 2008), also known as Humph, was an English jazz musician and broadcaster from the aristocratic Lyttelton family. 
Raised in an academic atmosphere (his father G.W. Lyttelton, the second son of the 8th Viscount Cobham, was a housemaster at Eton College), he taught himself to play a variety of instruments including the banjulele (a hybrid of the banjo and ukulele). His prodigious talent was spotted early and he was given formal lessons on piano and, a little later, in military band drumming. Eventually, his education took him back to Eton College, this time as a pupil. He joined the school orchestra as a timpanist but after a while drifted away from the orchestra and the instrument.   

At the age of 15 he discovered jazz, thanks to records by trumpeters Nat Gonella and, decisively, Louis Armstrong. By this time Lyttelton had switched to playing the mouth-organ, but, realizing the instrument's limitations, he acquired a trumpet, which he taught himself to play. Forming his own small jazz band at the college, he developed his playing ability and his consuming interest in jazz. With the outbreak of World War II he joined the Grenadier Guards, continuing to play whenever possible. 

After the war Lyttelton resumed playing, this time professionally, and in 1947 became a member of George Webb's Dixielanders. The following year he formed his own band and quickly became an important figure in the British revivalist movement (during this time he also worked as a noted cartoonist for the UK newspaper Daily Mail). In the late 40s and through to the mid-50s Lyttelton's stature in British jazz increased. Significantly, his deep interest in virtually all aspects of jazz meant that he was constantly listening to other musicians, many of whom played different forms of the music. Although he was never to lose his admiration for Armstrong, he refused to remain rooted in the revivalist tradition.  

His acceptance and absorption of music from the jazz mainstream ensured that when the trad boom fizzled out, Lyttelton continued to find an audience. In the mid-50s he added alto saxophonist Bruce Turner to his band, outraging some reactionary elements in British jazz circles, and a few years later added Tony Coe, Joe Temperley and other outstanding and forward-thinking musicians.  In 1956, he had his only pop chart hit, with the Joe Meek-produced recording of "Bad Penny Blues", which was in the UK Singles Chart for six weeks.

In the early 60s Lyttelton's reputation spread far beyond the UK and he also developed another important and long-term admiration for a trumpet player, this time, the American Buck Clayton. By this time, however, Lyttelton's personal style had matured and he was very much his own man. He was also heavily involved in many areas outside the performance of music. 

In 1954, he had published his first autobiographical volume and in the 60s he began to spread his writing wings as an essayist, journalist and critic. He also broadcast on radio and television, sometimes as a performer but also as a speaker and presenter. These multiple activities continued throughout the next two decades, his UK BBC Radio 2 series, The Best Of Jazz, running for 40 years. His writings included further autobiographical work and his ready wit found outlets in seemingly unlikely settings, such as his role as quiz master on the long-running radio comedy-panel series, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (he hosted the show from 1972 until his death in 2008).   

During this time Lyttelton continued to lead a band, employing first-rate musicians with whom he toured and made numerous records. He also toured and recorded with singers Helen Shapiro, Carol Kidd and Lillian Boutté. Back in the late 40s Lyttelton had recorded with Sidney Bechet and in the 70s and 80s he occasionally made albums with other American jazz. 

In the early 80s Lyttelton formed his own recording company, Calligraph, and by the end of the decade numerous new albums were available. In addition to these came others, mostly on the Dormouse label, which reissued his earlier recordings and were eagerly snapped up by fans of all ages. In the early 90s, touring with Kathy Stobart, Lyttelton showed no signs of letting up and barely acknowledged the fact that he had sailed past his 70th birthday. In 2001, his 80th year, he sessioned on Radiohead's Amnesiac and received an award at the BBC Jazz Awards, continuing to perform with undiminished flair and enthusiasm. In 2002 he recorded an album with singer Elkie Brooks, and for the next five years continued to release regular recordings with his new band.
On 18 April 2008 Jon Naismith, the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, announced cancellation of the spring series owing to Humphrey Lyttelton's hospitalisation to repair an aortic aneurysm. Lyttelton postponed his operation and managed to perform on all but the last night. He died peacefully following his surgery on 25 April 2008 with his family around him.  

Although he chose to spend most of his career in the UK, Lyttelton's reputation elsewhere was extremely high and thoroughly deserved. As a trumpet player and band leader, and occasional clarinettist, he ranged from echoing early jazz to near-domination of the British mainstream. For more than 50 years he succeeded in maintaining the highest musical standards, all the time conducting himself with dignity, charm and good humour.
(info edited mainly from NME)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For “Humphrey Lyttelton & His band – Snag It” go here:

1. Weary Blues
2. Sunday Morning
3. When It's Sleepy Time Down South
4. Georgia on My Mind
5. Maple Leaf Rag
6. Stomp, Stomp Come on and Stomp
7. Careless Love
8. Ice Cream
9. Snag It
10. I Like to Go Back in the Evening
11. Dallas Blues
12. Cakewalkin' Babies Back Home
13. Trouble in Mind
14. Panama Rag
15. Low Down Dirty Shame Blues
16. On Treasure Island
17. Trog's Blues
18. Wolverine Blues
19. Suffolk Air
20. Down Home Rag
21. Apex Blues
22. The Onions
23. Blues for an Unknown Gypsy
24. Travellin' Blues
25. It's Over Now
26. Get Out of Here and Go on Home