1. Fidgety Feet
2. Mezz’s Tune
3. Beale Street Blues
4. Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home*
5. Gone with the Wind
6. Snake Rag
7. Out of the Gallion*
8. Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
9. Panama Rag
10. I’ll Close My Eyes
11. The Old Grey Mare
Humphrey Lyttelton – Trumpet and clarinet*.
Wally Fawkes – Clarinet
Keith Christie – Trombone
Mick Pyne – Piano
Charlie Bentley – Banjo
Dave Green – Bass
Pete Staples – Drums
Recorded Conway Hall, London, May 31, 1969.
On this recording we hear Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008) being just a
little retrospective in that he returns to the style of jazz of his early
days. Back in the forties and fifties, the revival saw Lyttelton cast his
lot with the burgeoning Dixieland scene as he joined the George Webb band.
After he formed his own band, he found, with the passing of time, that he
wanted to go farther afield, so he took part in forming the Grant-Lyttelton
Paseo Jazz Band, and later went even more “modern,” as he terms it in his
liner notes to the original LP issue, to embrace bigger bands and more
pronounced “swing” music.
However, Lyttelton always retained a soft spot for the jazz style he began
with, and did enjoy returning to it, as he does here. He maintained that he
was not indulging in nostalgia, nor was he trying to recreate the “original
band,” although he did have two of his former early cohorts—Wally Fawkes
and Keith Christie—along for the ride. They were all simply indulging a
fondness for a style of jazz in which they had all engaged earlier.
Other than a few tracks—Mezz’s Tune, Gone with the Wind, Out of the Gallion, and I’ll Close My Eyes—the tune list
comprises classics. But it is a joy to hear this group’s interpretation of
them. Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars also tended not to stray far from such
type of tune and even would repeat a solo or head arrangement in subsequent
performances. For Lyttelton, Armstrong provided inspiration, and while
Lyttelton did not try to imitate Armstrong, one can hear the influence in
his playing. As I listened to the tracks on this CD, I couldn’t help but
hear echoes of the Armstrong All-Stars as Lyttelton provided a firm lead
from the front and Staples propelled the band with his powerful drumming
from the back.
Things get underway with a rousing Fidgety Feet and from there on
the audience is with them. Tempos are varied, and even the content as well,
as Lyttelton throws in a decidedly non-dixieland Gone with the Wind. The trombone phrasing, along with the piano
chording and improvising and the four-beat string bass along with the
drummer’s brushwork—all add up to a quite modernistic presentation, but one
that is very musical and entertaining, as judging by their applause, the
audience agreed. Although the track is over 10 minutes long, absent in this
piece are the banjo and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the trumpet!
The following track reverts to the classic traditional jazz repertoire with
a cracking Snake Rag, Lyttelton and Fawkes acing the chromatic
runs and Christie throwing in the requisite gliss at the proper moments.
The breaks on this tune give all a chance to show their chops and
invention—and all do. All of the cast sound as if they are having a
particularly good time with this tune.
Of the remaining tunes, I would mention three. First, Out of the Gallion, a slow blues for which Mezz Mezzrow is usually
given credit, finds the two clarinets of Lyttelton and Fawkes beautifully
emulating those of Mezzrow and Bechet, who together did the original
recording. It’s a very contemplative piece, rendered here with suitable
gravitas, displaying nice harmonies between the two reeds, which blend
together exquisitely. This tune is seldom heard from bands today. Another
seldom-heard tune is I’ll Close My Eyes, a pleasant ballad, more
favored by modern jazz groups as opposed to traditional ones. Finally the
disc ends with an old favorite of the Lyttelton bands of earlier times, The Old Grey Mare. While Lyttelton himself may not have indulged
in nostalgia here, it is almost a certainty that his fans did as they
joined in on the band vocal! It certainly was “many long years ago.”
This is another superb recording made available on CD by Liz Biddle and
Upbeat Records. It can be had from the Upbeat web site