Archive for Humphrey Lyttelton

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Posted in Art, Jazz with tags , , , , on March 16, 2023 by telescoper

I just heard today – via the latest Private Eye – of the passing of Wally Fawkes on 1st March at the age of 98. His name won’t be familiar to many of the readers of this blog, but it is a name that I grew up with in a jazz-loving family. Wally Fawkes played clarinet with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in its heyday in the late 40s and early 50s and was the last surviving member of that group. That band may have had a rhythm section that always sounded like its members were wearing diving boots, but the front line of Humphrey Lyttelton (trumpet), Wally Fawkes (clarinet) and Keith Christie (trombone) was truly outstanding.

Wally Fawkes wasn’t just a musician, though. He was also the acclaimed cartoonist known by the pseudonym Trog, and contributed a variety of cartoons to a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the long-running comic strip Flook. He was also an occasional contributor to Private Eye. He had to give up drawing in 2005 because of failing eyesight, after 62 years in the business.

I’ve already drawn attention to Wally Fawke’s excellence as a clarinet soloist with the Lyttelton band on The Onions at the famous 1954 Festival Hall Concert so it seems apt to pay tribute to his skills as both a cartoonist and a musician by returning to that concert for him playing his own composition Trog’s Blues. Wally Fawkes was a huge admirer of Sidney Bechet, and this tune clearly pays homage to Bechet’s monumental Blue Horizon (which I think is the finest instrumental blues ever recorded) but while Bechet’s blues performances were hewn from granite, Wally’s were wrought from finest porcelain.

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

International Jazz Day – A Tribute to Humph

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on April 30, 2021 by telescoper

Today is International Jazz Day which gives me an excuse to post this documentary about the late great Humphrey Lyttelton the anniversary of whose death was last weekend; he passed away on 25th April 2008.

I particularly like this programme because, as well as talking about his own career as a musician and bandleader and as brilliant chairman of the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, it mentions his radio show The Best of Jazz which I listened to avidly every Monday night and from which I learned a huge amount about the music that I love so much. I taped many of these broadcasts actually, but have long since lost the cassettes. Although his own music was in the mainstream he always played a wide selection of Jazz tracks both ancient and modern on his programme and introduced me to many artists I would otherwise never have heard of.

The Bechet-Lyttelton Session

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , on November 17, 2019 by telescoper

Every now and again on this blog I like to mark significant anniversaries, so I’m quite annoyed that I’ve missed one by a few days. It’s perhaps not very well known that the great Sidney Bechet came to England in 1949 and did a concert and a recording session with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band while he was here. That recording session took place just over 70 years ago, on 13th November 1949.

What’s also not very well known is how controversial this session was at the time, because in the immediate post-war years the Musician’s Union had persuaded the UK government to ban American artists from performing over here. Humph was having none of it, thank goodness, and here we have the legacy. Here is the unmistakable Sidney Bechet on soprano sax, playing a traditional blues called I told you once, I told you twice with Humph on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and, stealing the show, the superb (and, to my ears, rather modern-sounding) Keith Christie on trombone.

According to Humph’s memoirs, after the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph to his dressing room in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing. Bechet was a forceful character and often a harsh critic but when he got to Keith Christie he expressed nothing but unqualified admiration. There’s not much higher praise than that in the world of jazz…

Fat Tuesday!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2019 by telescoper

Well, it’s Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday which gives me four excuses to post this lovely old record made by Humphey Lyttelton’s Paseo Jazz Band in the early Fifties. That’s the band that featured Humph’s regular crew alongside a number of London’s marvellous West Indian musicians of the time, hence the abundance of percussion and the resulting infectious calypso beat. Enjoy!

Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks – Trouble in Mind

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by telescoper

Mention the name Elkie Brooks to people of my generation or older and most will think of her popular hits from the late 1970s, especially Pearl’s A Singer which made the UK Top Ten in 1977. Elkie Brooks has however had a long and very distinguished career as a Jazz and Blues singer, including regular performances over the years with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and his band. This particular track was recorded in 2002, when Humph was already in his eighties, but I think it’s a lovely performance so I thought I’d share it here.

Trouble in Mind is a very familiar tune that has been recorded countless times by jazz musicians. In fact an earlier manifestation of Humph’s Band made a very nice instrumental version way back in 1950 which I have on an old Parlophone 78. The tune is usually credited to Richard M. Jones, but it has its roots in much older spirituals and folk songs. There are a couple of things worth mentioning about it despite it being so well known.. Although Trouble in Mind is a blues, it is a slightly unusual one because it’s an eight-bar blues rather than the more usual twelve-bar variety. The other thing is that there’s something about this tune that suits a rhythm accompaniment in sixth notes, as exemplified by drummer Adrian Macintosh on this track when the vocal starts.

There’s also some fine trombone on this (by Pete Strange) and a nice bit of banter from Humph at the beginning. Enjoy!

Memories of Humph

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , on April 25, 2018 by telescoper

Humphrey Lyttelton, who died on 25th April 2008

Today is a rather sad anniversary: it’s ten years to the day since the death of Humphrey Lyttelton. I posted a tribute to him here and have posted quite a few other items about Humph and his band (under this tag), including one that included this picture of my Dad (who died in 2007 and who was a lifelong fan of Humph) playing the drums with him in a pub in Newcastle:

I was reminded about Humph by the ongoing saga of this the UK Government’s scandalous treatment of the Windrush generation, who came to Britain from the West Indies in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Their arrival coincided with the rise of Humph’s career as a musician and bandleader; he started recording a long series of 78s for the Parlophone labour in late 1949. In the mid-50s Humph formed what he called his Paseo Jazz Band with a group of London-based Caribbean musicians and they made some lovely records, complete with infectious calypso rhythms. In his first volume of autobiography, I Play As I Please Humph wrote very frankly about the racism faced by these black musicians, even from Jazz fans. It is indeed hard to see how anyone can be a jazz fan and have such attitudes, but some people seem to manage it. Humph was one of those who welcomed this generation of immigrants with open arms, and in his book he argued strongly against racial prejudice. If he’d been alive today he would have had no time for the xenophobic attitudes espoused by the current Government that have created such a hostile environment in the UK for anyone deemed to be foreign.

Anyway, some time ago I came across this film from 1950 showing Humph’s band in full swing (playing King Oliver’s Snake Rag, a tune guaranteed to fill the dance floor) at a downstairs club on Oxford Street in London. Jazz was very much for dancing to in those days, and the opportunity to let the hair down and burn some leather on the floor must have been a welcome distraction from post-war austerity. As the voice-over says, the drinks on sale in the club were non-alcoholic, but I’m told a van used to turn up and sell beer surreptitiously outside…

Rest in peace, Humph. We still miss you.

On Treasure Island

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on November 6, 2015 by telescoper

After a long and very trying week I thought I’d sign off for the weekend with a lovely old bit of jazz. This is what I think was Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, vintage 1950, playing a tune, On Treasure Island, that Humph almost certainly got off a copy of the gorgeous record Louis Armstrong made of this song in the 1930s, although the Lyttelton version is very different in tempo and character.

The front line of this incarnation of the Lyttelton band was the best ever: Humphrey Lyttelton himself on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and Keith Christie on trombone. The ensemble playing after Humph’s trumpet solo, from about 1.47, is an absolutely fantastic polyphonic blend of three great soloists. Enjoy!

Original Jelly Roll Blues

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on August 21, 2015 by telescoper

Well, it’s a sunny Friday afternoon here so I thought I’d wind down for the weekend by posting a nice bit of Jazz to end the week. This is a version of a famous composition (by Jelly Roll Morton) made by Humphrey Lyttelton with his Paseo Jazz Band. This consisted of the core of Humph’s band of the time – notably Humph himself on trumpet and Wally Fawkes on clarinet – with the addition of a large number of West Indian musicians whom Humph had met in London; the recordings they made together are an absolute blast, largely because of the fusion of traditional jazz with Caribbean rhythms. The sound contrasts with a lot of the “trad” jazz at the time, but is if anything more authentic than that of many revivalist bands of the period because it echoes the astonishing blend of cultures that was characteristic of New Orleans at the time Jazz was born. This tune in particular gets a rhythmic backdrop of congas, bongos, claves and maracas that gives it a lovely lilting feel. And on top of all the extra percussion there is Fitzroy Coleman’s guitar which was then, is now, and forever shall be, a joy. It’s a very original version indeed of the Original Jelly Roll Blues…

It makes my love come down

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by telescoper

A very busy day back in Sussex meant that I had no time for a post until I finished lecturing at 6pm, so there’s just time for a bit of music before I head home. I thought I’d put up another track by Humphrey Lyttelton, from the same concert at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1951 sponsored by the National Federation of Jazz Organizations (NFJO) from which I posted The Dormouse some time ago. This is an excellent performance of a blues called It makes my love come down, which Humph probably transcribed from the classic original recording by the greatest female blues singer of all time, Bessie Smith. Again it shows the Lyttelton band’s front line in fine fettle, especially when they come together for the last couple of choruses.


The Dormouse

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2015 by telescoper

Just spent an extremely enjoyable Saturday morning on the Sussex University campus for one of our Applicant Visit Days; there’ll be several more of these occasions over the next few months and I only hope we have such glorious weather for the others!

I thought I’d celebrate the fact that it all went well by posting a bit of old-fashioned good-time jazz. It’s getting on for seven years since the death of the great Humphrey Lyttelton, who was not only a fine trumpeter and bandleader but also blessed with wickedly dry sense of humour. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Humph’s band had a terrific front line consisting of Wally Fawkes on clarinet and the superb Keith Christie on trombone, led by himself on trumpet. Apparently when they did late-night gigs, Keith Christie had a habit of occasional dozing off while someone else was soloing. Not unreasonably, this behaviour reminded Humph of the Dormouse at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so he decided to write a tune with that name in honour of Keith Christie. I have the studio recording of The Dormouse, which was released on Parlophone as a 78rpm single, and it’s such a blast that I love it to bits, but this is a live performance which I just came across a few days ago. It comes from a famous concert at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1951 sponsored by the National Federation of Jazz Organizations (NFJO) which featured a number of bands as well as Humph’s.

Anyway, it’s a delicious helping of New Orleans jazz served with a generous side order of English eccentricity, guaranteed to bring a smile to the most crabbed of faces. The trombone introduction and fills by Keith Christie, in whose honour the tune was written, are typically full of humour, but the improvised ensemble playing is absolutely terrific, especially from about 1.55 onwards. Humph’s band of this time didn’t have the greatest rhythm section – Humph himself joked that they often sounded like they were wearing diving boots – but the front line was world class.

ps. It definitely should be “The Dormouse” not “The Doormouse”…

pps. Unless my ears deceive me I think this number is announced by Kenneth Horne…