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HUMPHREY LYTTELTON

Sir Humph’s Delight: Humphrey Lyttelton in Retrospect

Upbeat URCD279

 

 

 

 

1. Shake It and Break It

2. King Porter Stomp

3. Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble

4. Knee Drops

5. March Hare

6. Oh! Dad

7. Christopher Columbus

8. Cheek to Cheek

9. I Want a Little Girl

10. If I Could Be with You

11. Jersey Lightning

12. Stompy Jones

13. Portugese Folk Song

14. Sir Humph’s Delight

15. Echoes of Harlem

16. Caribana Queen

17. Weary Blues

18. That Old Gang of Mine

19. 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 (tracks 9 & 10) 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 public 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 Break It.

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 favour with many of Lyttelton’s fans, and he moved on again, ditching the “revivalist” in favour 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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Bert Thompson

 


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