The English bandleader made New Orleans music popular in Great Britain
Lyttelton was the foremost New Orleans and Classic Jazz musician and bandleader during the late 1940s and early 1950s in Great Britain and Europe
The uncontested leader of British jazz for decades, he was a very popular BBC Radio personality for 40 years
The Consummate British Jazz Musician
Humphrey Lyttelton was an excellent bandleader, composer of 120 tunes, author, cartoonist, jazz commentator and beloved broadcaster. He played cornet, trumpet and very good clarinet.
Lyttelton was a natural leader with a clear musical outlook for his bands. The recordings were cohesive with solid tempos and a clear sense of direction, qualities evident in “Dallas Blues,” and “Irish Black Bottom” from 1948-50. Lyttelton worked his will through a collaborative process, leading his ensembles with considerable drive. While avoiding unnecessary pyrotechnics, he plays in the style of early Louis Armstrong in “Melancholy Blues,” and joined by long time associate, clarinetist Wally Fawkes playing in the style of Johnny Dodds.
To say that his horn style was based on Louis Armstrong would be only the most superficial analysis. Armstrong was his early inspiration and hero, and Satch generously praised Lyttelton more than once. But a wide range of styles and influences are found in Humph’s playing: New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City and mainstream jazz.
Born in 1921 at Eton College in Berkshire England, his father was a housemaster of modest means. Turning his back on an upper-class heritage he rejected the aristocratic titles of baron and viscount, striking out on his own path.
Possessing copious natural ability as a trumpeter, arranger and composer he did not seek greatness, it found him. A natural leader, much to his surprise Humphrey became the champion of the British New Orleans jazz revival and a leading light of the English Trad Jazz movement from the late 1940s through the mid-‘50s
But Lyttelton shocked the Traditional Jazz world when he added saxophone to his band, and later branched out into Swing. He eventually embraced mainstream jazz, working with contemporary vocalists and instrumentalists.
During the 1960s in partnership with Buck Clayton and former Basie-ites, he championed Kansas City Swing, and experimented with Calypso and West Indian rhythms. After his forays into mainstream jazz, Lyttelton renewed his traditional jazz credentials during the 1980s, reuniting with long time partner Wally Fawkes.
Pt. 1 - Farewell to Humphrey Lyttelton (2008)
Lyttelton 1A.mp3 DOCTOR BLUES -- The Humphrey Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992 DALLAS BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 MELANCHOLY BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1948 IRISH BLACK BOTTOM -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1949 GEORGIA ON MY MIND -- H. Lyttelton & his Band w/ Sidney Bechet, 1949 ELIZABETH -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1949 STRAIGHT FROM THE WOOD -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 THE ONIONS -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1952 BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME -- H. Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992
Lyttelton 1B.mp3 BLUES FOR AN UNKNOWN GYPSY -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1951 RANDOLF TURPIN STOMP -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1951 MEZZ’S TUNE -- The Humphrey Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992 HOPPIN’ MAD -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band with Ade Monsbourgh, 1951 MIDNIGHT CREEP -- The Bell-Lyttelton Jazz Ten, 1951 BACKROOM JOYS -- Lazy Ade and is Late Hour Boys with Humphrey Lyttelton, 1951
Reed Talent and Partner: Wally Fawkes Wally Fawkes was the first in Great Brittan to play clarinet in the style of Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet and the New Orleans Creoles. Clarinetist for almost all of the Lyttelton recording bands he, was a founding member of the original Lyttelton band in 1947. He stayed with Humph until 1956 and they frequently re-united afterwards. Incidentally, Fawkes was not technically British, though a subject of the British crown born in Vancouver, Canada, 1924. His family moved to England when he was age seven.
Aside from their superb musical partnership, they joined in other endeavors. In 1949 Fawkes tipped Lyttelton about a cartoonist artist's job available at the Daily Mail. Together they created cartoons for many years, Lyttelton the writer.
‘Trog’ Depending who you ask, Wally Fawkes was either among England’s greatest jazz clarinet players, or its greatest cartoonist, drawing under his pen name ‘Trog.’ Fawkes cartoons appeared in English newspapers and magazines for six decades. The first to satire royalty in his cartoons (even the queen!), his cartoons appeared in such prestigious publications as The Daily Mail, Observer, Punch, and Sunday Telegraph.
Lyttelton frequently favored a second reed for his band, which he sometimes played himself quite well. The Lyttelton-Fawkes partnership often took the form of superb clarinet duets. As a duo they often seemed able to read each other’s minds: “Apex Blues” (Wally, bass clarinet) and Fawkes’ original, “Suffolk Air.”
Hunphrey was no slouch, and their superb clarinet duets extended their musical friendship. The rapport was apparent in a 1992 session when they played a Fawkes original, the tender “Leah’s Lullaby,” dedicated to his first grandchild. Their rendition of W.C. Handy’s “Ole Miss Rag,” recalls the Bechet-Mezzrow duets of the late 1940s.
There’s yet another odd connection between Fawkes and Lyttelton. They both had 17th century ancestors involved in the celebrated “Gun Powder Plot.” For his alleged role in that 1606 plot to bomb Parliament and kill the king to restore Catholicism, Humph’s distant predecessor -- another Humphrey Lyttleton -- was hanged.
Wally bears the surname of a central participant in that conspiracy, Guy Fawkes. Today, the 5th of November in Britain and the former empire is known as “Guy Fawkes Night” or “Bonfire Night,” celebrated with bonfires, firecrackers and fireworks.
BBC Buddy Bolden Project
In 1986, Lyttelton was engaged in a landmark BBC documentary about Buddy Bolden the first jazz trumpeter in New Orleans. Though Bolden never recorded, his legendary rough, loud strutting style of blues played for dancing launched jazz.
In an audacious work of jazz archaeology, Lyttelton attempted to recreate the sound of Buddy and his band c. 1900, aiming for an approximation of his personal trumpet sound, band instrumentation, performance style and repertoire. The resulting album presented music reliably thought to be part of Bolden’s repertory and style: “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” “If You Don’t Shake,” and “Don’t Go Way Nobody,” which was reputed to be Bolden’s show opener.
Playing jazz for then-Princess Elizabeth II brought the band national acclaim in 1951.
Randolf Turpin Stomp In 1951 boxer Randolf Turpin, a black Briton, briefly seized the middleweight championship title from Sugar Ray Robinson. It was one of Sugar Ray’s few defeats; he’d only been beaten once out of a total of 133 professional fights.
This was a moment of considerable English national pride. It was commemorated by Lyttelton in “Randolf Turpin Stomp,” written only days before their notable 1951 Royal Festival Hall concert, attended by then-princess Elizabeth II. The concert included Lyttelton’s original, “Blues For An Unknown Gypsy.” It’s a stunning example of the superb Fawkes-Lyttelton clarinet duos.
The Many Talents of a Polymath Aside from his superb trumpet and clarinet playing, musical leadership and composing, Lyttelton was an accomplished author. He wrote several pithy and entertaining books and memoirs about jazz. Additionally, he was a world-class calligrapher, and a bird watcher. Besides all that, over the last four decades of his life Lyttelton was very popular on BBC radio.
Initially Humphrey produced his own jazz program on the BBC. But it was as the beloved master of ceremonies for the satirical panel quiz show, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue that he became best known and beloved to British radio audiences. It’s safe to say that Humphrey Lyttelton was a British national treasure several times over. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue website
Pt. 2 - Farewell to Humphrey Lyttelton (2008)
Lyttelton 2A.mp3 CARELESS LOVE BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 WEARY BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 78 rpm, 1948 WORKING MAN BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton & his Band, 78 rpm, 1948 HOPFROG -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 DON’T MENTION IT -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1983 GEORGIA MAE -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1974 DON’T GO WAY NOBODY -- Humphrey Lyttelton-Russell Davies Repertory All Stars, 1986 MY BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT -- Humphrey Lyttelton et al, 1986 IF YOU DON’T SHAKE -- Humphrey Lyttelton-Russell Davies Repertory All Stars, 1986 BAD PENNY BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1956
Lyttelton 2B.mp3 THE WRESTLER’S TRICKS -- Buck Clayton with Humphrey Lyttelton & his Band, 1964 ONE FOR BUCK -- Buck Clayton with Humphrey Lyttelton & his Band, 1966 TROUBLE IN MIND -- Humphrey Lyttelton & his Band, 1950 IT MAKES MY LOVE COME DOWN -- Humphrey Lyttelton & his Band, 1951 I LIKE TO GO BACK IN THE EVENING -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1986
Aussies Come to Play
At the peak of his popularity in 1951-52 Humphrey was unofficial host for the second visit to England of the top Australian traditional jazz outfit of the late 1940-50s: the band of pianist Graeme Bell and his brother, trumpeter Roger Bell.
They were welcomed at the dock by the sounds of Lyttelton’s band. Co-leader Roger Bell, his family and some of the Aussie cats lodged at the Lyttelton residence. During the visit a blended ensemble of both bands recorded a dozen or so excellent numbers. The results were among most exciting hot jazz records ever made in England, combining Lyttelton’s skill with the brash intensity of the Australians.
Among these gems were some of Humph’s originals like the upbeat “Open House.” For the frisky “Hoppin’ Mad” and jaunty “Backroom Joys” his band was joined by Australia’s finest saxophonist, Ade Monsbourgh. “Midnight Creep” featured a delightful mixed reed section of Australians Pixie Roberts and Ade Monsbrough (saxes) with Wally Fawkes (clarinet).
Composed by Lyttelton and featuring Fawkes, “Small Hour Fantasy” is a convincing emulation of the rhapsodic mood pieces that were a specialty of Sidney Bechet in those years. Fawkes sometimes played in the Bechet manner, and that’s not a glib analogy. Bechet recorded with the band in 1949: “Some of These Days” (Bechet). Lyttelton reports that Sidney made the comparison himself, calling Wally, “my shadow.”
Humph and Sidney
Humph organized a jazz club where the band could play twice a week for fans.
Jazz Advocate Lyttelton formed his first real band in 1947. In those days he and his comrades were mere amateurs: part-time musicians with day-jobs. They played small clubs, their popularity spread by word of mouth.
Nonetheless in 1948 Traditional Jazz was such a novelty in England that Humphrey had to issue his first records independently. Within a year or so he’d proven the enormous appeal of the music. During the next decade, Parlophone issued over 170 Lyttelton sides.
In one of his memoirs, Second Chorus,
Humph suggested a reason for the success and wide popularity of the
New Orleans revival, asserting that postwar British swing was,“quite abysmal . . . infected with a watery refinement far removed from the essence of jazz.”
Likewise, he felt the rough, brassy New Orleans and Classic Jazz styles were a fresh breeze, at a time when,“modern
jazz was in grave danger of becoming isolated from any audience except
critics and musicologists. The revival re-established [jazz] as a
This improvised, and very importantly danceable style stirred up enthusiasm for amateur music making. “Above all else,” he said, “we had fun . . . we played as we pleased.” Indeed, I Play as I Please was title for another of his memoirs.
Pt. 3 - Farewell to Humphrey Lyttelton (2008)
Lyttelton 3A.mp3 HOPFROG -- The Humphrey Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992 MAHOGANY HALL STOMP -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1948 BLACK AND BLUE -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band with Sidney Bechet, 1949 SUNDAY MORNING -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1948 PANAMA -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1948 LEAH’S LULLABY -- Humphrey Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992 OLE MISS RAG -- Humphrey Lyttelton-Wally Fawkes Troglodytes, 1992 BLUE FOR WATERLOO -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1949
Lyttelton 3B.mp3 SMALL HOUR FANTASY -- The Bell-Lyttelton Jazz Nine, 1951 OPEN HOUSE -- The Bell-Lyttelton Jazz Nine, 1951 SOME OF THESE DAYS -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band with Sidney Bechet, 1949 CAKEWALKIN’ BABIES BACK HOME -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 TROG’S BLUES -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1951 COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1950 THE OLD GREY MARE -- Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band, 1951
Independent Thinker and Accomplished Author Humph’s diverse interests included illustration, cartooning and calligraphy, writing, and bird watching. Beginning around 1967 he was heard on BBC Radio, first presenting his own series about jazz. Then for 35 years he was beloved host of the satirical panel show, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.”
Lyttelton was a prolific composer of some 120 tunes. “Don’t Mention It” is a fairly modern creation from the 1980s that seems influenced by the compositional experiments of Bix Beiderbeke in the late 1920s. Humph called his deconstruction of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Georgia Mae.”
He was also author of more than a dozen books and memoirs mostly about jazz, his highly regarded Best Of Jazz, an affectionate and incisive survey of early jazz. As such he was part of a small but distinguished circle of musician-critics writing from an insiders perspective with a practitioners understanding of the music.
Going Mainstream During the 1950s Lyttelton gradually became a popular musician. At one point his manager was George Martin, who was among the marketing and production geniuses behind the Beatles success. In fact the jangly piano line in the Beatles hit “Lady Madonna” may have been inspired by the barrel house-boogie piano of “Bad Penny Blues.”
“Bad Penny Blues” in 1956 was Lyttelton’s one hit on the British top 20 singles charts.
However, he felt that it represented less his own intent than the studio production tricks of its nefariously creative producer, Joe Meek.
“Trumpet Brothers” with Buck Clayton
By the 1960s Humph had moved away from New Orleans and Traditional Jazz well into the mainstream. He became very close friends with Buck Clayton, the Kansas City style trumpeter best known for his years with Count Basie.
In the early and mid-1960s Lyttelton invited Clayton to join him touring England and making records. At this time Lyttelton was playing in the Count Basie style.
The 1965 Kansas City Jazz Show tour was a K.C. Swing revival starring Clayton, Ben Webster (tenor sax), Vic Dickenson (trombone) and singers Big Joe Turner or Jimmy Rushing (photo).
Clayton and Lyttelton were very good friends. Buck dedicated an entire chapter of his memoir to his years with Humph, asked him to write the foreword, and called Lyttelton one of his “trumpet brothers.” Over the course of several tours they had, “a ball blowing together,” and racing through the rolling English countryside in Humphrey’s sports car, stopping at roadside pubs for meat pies and ale.
In his memoir, Buck Clayton's Jazz World (Oxford, 1989) Buck wrote of Lyttelton: “. . . he had just about everything . . . a good trumpet player . . . a good band . . . a quick wit (and) one of the most friendly people that I’d met . . . if he had been an American he would have been compared with the greatest. He was never credited with being as good as he really was.”
Humph and Buck
In his 1958 memoir, Second Chorus, Lyttelton described his typical week: " . . . filled to overflowing with odd jobs . . . there are all sorts of things to be written -- scripts for TV or broadcast shows, bits and pieces for record albums, souvenir programs, the club bulletin which goes out to our members bi-monthly. There are programs to be compiled, new numbers to be dug up, new arrangements to be timed and adjusted for TV shows, new records to be listened to for review, new books to be read, new tunes to be composed . . . [and] a band rehearsal of at least four hours.”
Humph was clearly a very busy guy. For instance in the
mid-1950s he was writing weekly music columns for three music
publications and was a full time musician, his band playing several
nights per week in London, touring out of town a few days a month, and
overseas 2-3 times a year.
Jazz Exemplar I believe Humphrey Lyttelton was the best jazz trumpeter and classic jazz bandleader that England ever produced. That he achieved success in so many other fields -- broadcasting, calligraphy, journalism and jazz history – reveals a brilliance verging on genius.
“It Makes My Love Come Down” is an exemplar of ensemble jazz. It features a superbly sympathetic interaction between Humphrey on trumpet, his long-time trombonist Keith Christie, and Wally Fawkes (clarinet) at their famous 1951 Royal Festival Hall concert, attended by the Princess. “Trouble In Mind” shows Humph’s brilliant application of a 2nd clarinet (Ian Christie) in his band.
Farewell to a Polymath
Humphrey Lyttelton was an independent thinker, creative artist and a self-made man of many parts. He was deeply loved, widely honored, the recipient of a half dozen honorary university degrees, an accomplished polymath, and a British national treasure.
In 1968 NASA invited him to play a selection of jazz numbers that were transmitted live to the crew of Apollo 8. Around the year 2000 he collaborated with the rock band Radiohead recording a song called “Life In A Glasshouse.” He subsequently joined the band at a concert in Oxford, England before a crowd of 50,000, saying it was one of the most moving experiences of his career.
In broadcasting Humph’s talent for wordplay, banter and wit made him a deeply loved master of ceremonies on the BBC. In journalism, commentary and cartoon art he offered playfulness and fresh insights. Musically, his clear voice, direct leadership, open mindedness and modesty made Humphrey Lyttelton possibly the best loved British jazz musician of his generation.