HUMPHREY LYTTELTON—Sir Humph’s Delight: Humphrey Lyttelton in Retrospect (Upbeat
URCD 279). Playing time: 69 mins. 07 secs.
Shake It and Break It; King Porter Stomp; Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble; Knee Drops; March Hare; Oh!
Dad; Christopher Columbus; Cheek to Cheek; I Want a Little Girl*; If I Could Be with You*;
Jersey Lightning; Stompy Jones; Portugese Folk Song; Sir Humph’s Delight; Echoes of Harlem;
Caribana Queen; Weary Blues; That Old Gang of Mine; Of All the Wrongs You’ve Done to Me.
Humphrey Lyttelton – trumpet and clarinet. While the rest of the personnel is too numerous to
cite all, included are Wally Fawkes, Bruce Turner, Tony Coe, Freddie Lego, George Hopkinson,
Mickey Ashman, Jim Bray, Stan Greig, among many others. Vocals* are by Jimmy Rushing.
Recorded various times between 1953 and 1985. No specific dates or locations given.
As one may conclude from the album title, most of these tracks have appeared before on
various CDs by Lyttelton and his various musical aggregations, many of these, from the early
revivalist groups of the early fifties to the mainstream groups of the mid eighties, represented
here. Missing are later recordings from the years 1986 through 2007. Some performances are
live recordings, others studio; other than the first two tracks being taken from acetates, the rest
are reissues which fans of Lyttelton may well have already in their collections.
Coming from an aristocratic family background, educated in private school, and seeing action
in WWII as a commissioned officer with the Grenadier Guards, Lyttelton was something of a
Renaissance man, his talents bridging several disciplines. He was, as most people know, an
accomplished trumpet player, but he was also very adept at playing clarinet, being self-taught
on both instruments. Not only did he play jazz, he also led his own bands, along the way
composing what turned out to be over 200 tunes. In addition he was the owner of a record
label, Calligraph records, which he founded in 1983 to reissue many of his older recordings as
well as issue newer ones. He became the presenter, for several decades, of BBC Radio 2's Best
of Jazz show, and the compère of BBC Radio 4’s comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
Added to all of that was his ability as an excellent calligrapher—he eventually became president
of The Society for Italic Handwriting—as well as a very good caricaturist—an example of his
work, a caricature of himself, is found on the cover to this CD. Finally, he was an author,
having written a number of non-fiction books—many of jazz criticism, analysis, and
autobiography—and contributed to others. His curriculum vitae was thus impressive.
This CD covers Lyttelton’s musical output between 1953 and 1985 and gives a good sampling
of the directions he took as well as the styles he subscribed to at various times. At first
Lyttelton was much enamored of the revivalist style, eagerly soaking up the jazz of the twenties
and the traditional jazz of the forties. He became a member of George Webb’s Dixielanders
and then left to form his own band, of which we have a sample in the first track, Shake It and
Ever one to experiment, Lyttelton, along with saxophonist Freddy Grant, formed the
Caribbean-influenced Paseo Jazz Band, exemplified in King Porter Stomp, the second track on
this album. This band, heavily laden with percussion, did not find much favor with many of
Lyttelton’s fans, and he moved on again, ditching the “revivalist” in favor of a “mainstream”
direction, one which he adhered to for much of the rest of his playing days.
Unlike many of his contemporaries and to the dismay of many traditional jazz aficionados,
Lyttelton found the saxophone congenial and the guitar more to his taste than the banjo, and
with the introduction of Bruce Turner and Freddie Legon into the band’s ranks, we find these
two instruments included in the bands which he put together, as, for instance, on the above-
mentioned Shake It and Break and on his own composition March Hare. Turner carries the
whole Oh! Dad accompanied by the rhythm section. Wally Fawkes, a long-time associate of
Lyttelton’s from the early days, remained on clarinet with the band until his business pursuits
(he did not rely on music for his livelihood) necessitated his leaving in 1956.
As one will see and hear, from the late fifties on Lyttelton had more than one saxophone—
sometimes as many as three, as for instance on Jersey Lightning—in his band. On occasion in
the late fifties Lyttelton tried out a big band format—five trumpets, three trombones, five
saxes, piano, bass, and drums— exemplified by Stompy Jones, the Duke Ellington composition.
Economics, however, undoubtedly played a part in putting paid to such a large aggregation.
Lyttelton’s finest track on this CD for me is Echoes of Harlem in which he demonstrates
tremendous control and beautiful work with the wah-wah mute and the tonguing, the latter so
powerful on the cadenza with which he closes the piece. His writing and scoring skills are
evident in March Hare with its intriguing latin opening choruses and the stop time behind the
bass solo, together with crisp breaks taken by other instruments on their solos. He is listed as
playing clarinet on only two tracks in his collection: Caribana Queen, a Lyttelton original, and
Weary Blues. The first features a trio of clarinets—Lyttelton, Turner, and John Barnes—plus
trombone, piano, bass, and drums. The three clarinets achieve a fine synchronicity with the
harmonies and the trills, all with a latin backing. The second, Weary Blues, features a small
group consisting of ostensibly two clarinets: those of Lyttelton and, from France, Claude
Luter. While I may be mistaken, to my ears Lyttelton is not playing clarinet here but trumpet.
The CD thus gives a fair sampling of Lyttelton’s prime years in music making and reminds us
of how good he was. Those who already have all of the previously issued tracks that are on
this disc might still find it useful in that they can locate them without having to insert several
CDs into the player to gain access to each. Those who are unacquainted with Lyttelton or who
know him only through his well known composition Bad Penny Blues (which made it to the top
twenty charts of the period but has not been included on this disc) will find this CD a useful
introduction to his corpus.
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