Archive for Humphrey Lyttelton

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…

I told you once, I told you twice..

Posted in Jazz with tags , on September 26, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d wind things down for the weekend by posting a little bit of British jazz history. 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. What’s also not very well known is how controversial this was, as 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 unmistakeable 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 absolutely superb Keith Christie on trombone. The only problem is that the youtube version cuts out a bit early…

After the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing and so on. 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.

 

Return of the Bad Penny Blues

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , on October 1, 2013 by telescoper

So, it’s October again. What happened to September? Anyway, looking back through my archive this morning I discovered that exactly five years ago today I posted a tribute to the legendary Humphrey Lyttelton. I still miss Humph greatly so thought I’d indulge myself by posting the piece again with a few small updates. Well, they say a Bad Penny always comes back….

–0–

I knew I could’t blog for long without writing something about a great hero of mine, the inimitable Humphrey Lyttelton, better known to his many fans as “Humph”. He died earlier this year (on April 25 2008, at the age of 86) of complications following a heart operation. News of his death came as a massive shock to me, as it had never really occured to me that one day he would be no more. Tributes to him in the media were unsurprisingly glowing in their admiration.

In later years, Humph was best known as the chairman of the long-running radio comedy show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, subtitled “The Antidote to Panel Games” in which his gravelly but perfectly elocuted voice, schoolmasterish manner and impeccable comic timing proved the perfect foil to the antics of Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and many other contributors. I hope I get the chance to say a bit more about this programme in due course, as I treasure my collection of recordings of shows that still make me laugh at the umpteenth listening.

But Humph had many other strings to his bow. He was a talented cartoonist and a gifted writer, and also hosted the BBC Radio programme “The Best of Jazz” on Radio 2 for forty years, counting the great John Peel among his legions of listeners. I owe a special debt to Humph for this programme as I listened to it religiously every monday night at 9pm during my teenage years. He would open the show with “This his Humphrey Lyttelton here, with the best part of an hour of jazz between now and five to ten”. His theme tune then was Wanderlust, recorded by a subset of Duke Ellington’s orchestra with the great saxophonist Coleman Hawkins appearing as a guest and contributing a truly magnificent tenor solo near the end of the piece.

Through Humph I discovered most of the music I still listen to on a daily basis, jazz from the classic era of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, through the swing era of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, the postwar bebop period of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, then modernists like Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp and onto the avant-garde of the time. Humph loved all kinds of jazz, and he communicated his encyclopedic knowledge a style flavoured by a dry sense of humour. I never met him in person, but I would have loved the chance to thank him for helping nurture in me a passion for all that wonderful music.

Humph was also a fine Jazz trumpeter and bandleader in his own right. When my father was at school in the 1950s, the Lyttelton band was the leading “traditional Jazz” band in Britain. Humph had played with many of the greats, including Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, and won their admiration for his trumpet-playing.

My dad had become a Lyttelton fan at School and it was this that persuaded him to take up playing the drums. He joined the RAF for his national service, and he had the opportunity to play with various bands then and later on when he went back into civvy street. He was a life long admirer of Humph and eventually got to play with him at the Corner House in Newcastle but not until the 1990s. He told me it was one of the proudest moments of his life, although he had been so nervous he didn’t really play very well. Here’s a photograph of this occasion:

In the late 1940s Humph’s band had started to record a series of 78rpm records for the Parlophone label, starting with a lovely version of “Maple Leaf Rag” and stretching to over a hundred titles. Among these tracks was one record that actually made it into the Top 20 of the British pop charts in 1956, admittedly at Number 19, but nevertheless that’s no mean feat for a Jazz record. I should point out that this was long before my birth, but I remember hearing the track many times around the house when I was young.

The Bad Penny Blues was written by Humphrey Lyttelton and the hit recording features a quartet drawn from his band which, by the mid-1950s, had gravitated to a more mainstream jazz style, away from the “traddy” sound favoured by most contemporary jazz outfits. Indeed, he had incurred the wrath of many conservative fans by daring to include a saxophonist, the brilliant but eccentric Bruce Turner, in his outfit. Bad Penny Blues, though, featured only Humph on trumpet, Johhny Parker on piano, Stan Greig on drums and Jim Bray on bass. It was only recorded as an afterthought because it went down well at live gigs at Humph’s Jazz Club the HL Club (which later became the 100 Club, at 100 Oxford Street.)

But the real key to the success of this record was a young man by the name of Joe Meek. Starting out as a sound engineer at the Parlophone studios, Meek had quickly established an excellent reputation and in this case he was asked to take over the whole production of the record. According to Humph, they were slightly concerned at what he was doing with the microphones before they made the take but after it was done they all went home and left Meek to do some tinkering with the sound before cutting the disk. In those days, recording techniques were relatively crude and there generally wasn’t much in the way of post production, especially in jazz.

When he heard the final record, Humph was shocked. For one thing, Meek had close-miked all the instruments, including the drums – something which wasn’t generally done with jazz records for fear of (a) drowning out the rest of the band and (b) exposing the clumsiness of the drummer, the latter being a particularly problem. As Humph said, his band always sounded like the rhythm section was wearing diving boots. For this reason the drums were usually recorded with a distant mike and generally hidden in the ensemble playing. But in this case it worked out very well. Stan Greig used brushes on this track and his playing served beautifully both to propel and to punctuate the performances of the other musicians.

But it wasn’t the drums that so disturbed Humph. Meek had also fiddled with the double bass and with the left hand boogie-woogie figures of Johnny Parker’s piano, fattening them out and changing the balance to bring them right up in the final mix. He also compressed the overall sound so that the bass lines seem to press in on both the piano’s right hand and the growling muted trumpet lead, tying them closer to Greig’s insistent drum patterns and creating an unusually dense sound. The result is an intense, driving feel, with a dark undertone that is quite unlike any other jazz record of its period and redolent with the atmosphere of a smoky jazz club. I love it, especially the moment when Humph’s trumpet takes over from the piano solo. With a timely kick from the drums and against the backdrop of those bluesy thumping bass lines the band finds another gear and they build up a fine head of steam before riffing their way into the fade.

Here is the original 78rpm single:

Humph didn’t like the way the record had been put together, but it was an instant hit. He later joked that he hated it all the way to the bank.

Joe Meek went on to produce several classic pop records, generating many ideas that were later used by Phil Spector, but ultimately he became a tragic figure. Such commercial success as he achieved didn’t really last and he sank into debt, depression and paranoia. A gay man in an era in which homosexuality was still illegal, he became a victim of blackmail and was questioned by the police for alleged encounters with rent boys. He committed suicide in 1967 at the age of 37.

The Bad Penny Blues went on to be the “inspiration” behind Paul Macartney’s Lady Madonna, a Beatles track which has a lot of the same notes in it and also borrows the same overall feel. I can’t put it more subtly than that. George Martin, who produced the Beatles’ track, was actually in charge of the Parlophone studio at the time Bad Penny Blues was recorded…

And Humph went on to live another 52 years, bringing music and laughter to millions.

To end with, here’s a link to a later version of the tune recorded by a more recent manifestation of Humph’s band, probably in the 1980s. Note the way his technique involved the use of his eyebrows! I may be wrong, but I think the pianist on this performance is Mick Pyne and the bass is played by Dave Green. I can’t really make out the drummer.