Born: May 23, 1921 | Died: April 25, 2008 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Humphrey Lyttelton is descended from a long line of land-owning, political, military, clerical, scholastic and literary forebears. Not a musician among them. He claims to have most in common with a former Humphrey Lyttelton who was executed for complicity with Guy Fawkes in the Gunpowder plot.
He was born on May 23rd, 1921 in Eton College, where his father was a famous housemaster, and where he was subsequently educated. During the war, he served as an officer in the Grenadiar Guards and, on demobilisation, studied for two years at Camberwell Arts School.
In 1949, he joined the London Daily Mail as cartoonist, during which time he also wrote the story-line for Trog's 'Flook' cartoon Trog being the nom de plume of clarinetist Wally Fawkes.
He formed his first jazz band in 1948, after spending a year with George Webb’s Dixielanders, a band which pioneered New Orleans-style jazz in Britain. Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band, with Wally Fawkes on clarinet, soon became the leading traditional jazz band in Britain, with a high reputation in Europe gained through many Continental tours.
In 1949, he signed a recording contract with EMI, resulting in a string of now much sought-after recordings in the Parlophone Super Rhythm Style series. Prior to that, the band had already made records on his own London Jazz label, and had accompanied the great Sidney Bechet in an historic session for Melodisc in 1949. It was for Parlophone that Humph recorded his own ‘Bad Penny Blues’ which, in 1956, was the first British jazz record to get into the Top Twenty.
Highspots of that early period include a visit with an all star British band to the first International Jazz Festival in Nice (1948), where he ‘sat in’ with the likes of Rex Stewart, Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines and where Louis Armstrong was heard to say 'That boy's comin' on!'. In 1956, when Louis Armstrong and his All Stars played a run of concerts in London, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band were chosen to open the shows. On the last night, during the finale, Humph put a homemade crown on Satchmo's head and, belatedly, crowned him 'King of Jazz'.
In the late Fifties, Humph shocked many of his fans by enlarging his band and his repertoire to include mainstream and other non-traditional material. The eight-piece band with its saxophone section of Tony Coe, Jimmy Skidmore and Joe Temperley, toured the United States successfully in 1959 and led to fruitful collaborations in Britain with Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate and blues-singers Jimmy Rushing and Joe Turner during the next decade.
Chairman Humph with John Neismith Humphrey Lyttelton is today busier than ever. His band, one of the most versatile in the world, still tours regularly. Every Monday night since 1967 has found him on BBC Radio Two, purveying ‘The Best Of Jazz’ on record. Nowadays when people say ‘I enjoy your radio show …’, they are as likely to mean the anarchic BBC panel game ‘I’m Sorry I Haven't A Clue’ in which he has played the role of reluctant chairman since 1972, and which won the best radio comedy show in 1995 and again in 2002.
As a freelance journalist, he has written restaurant reviews for Harpers & Queen, humorous articles for Punch and the British Airways Highlife magazine, as well as numerous articles on jazz. He has written eight books the latest being 'It Just Occurred To Me...' He has composed over two hundred tunes which have been recorded by his band.
In leisure moments, he enjoys bird-watching and is a keen amateur calligrapher. In 1990, he was appointed President of the Society For Italic Handwriting. In 1984, he founded his own record label, Calligraph Records. This was primarily to record his own band, and there has been a steady flow of their albums, sometimes featuring guest artists -- Wally Fawkes, Helen Shapiro, Buddy Tate, Lillian Boutte and, latterly, Stacey Kent with Jim Tomlinson . Humph has also made recordings on the label with Kenny Davern and Acker Bilk. Several Lytteltonians have been featured with their own groups, notably Bruce Turner and also Adrian Macintosh, Ted Beament and the late Paul Bridge, the latter replaced in their group Trio Time by John Rees-Jones. Other artists who have recorded for the label include singer Maxine Daniels, Australian cornetist Bob Barnard and the trombone ensemble, Bone Structure. There have also been reissues of Humph's early work for the Parlophone label in the Fifties Humph has been much in demand as an after-dinner speaker, on his own and in combined presentations with his band. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates, in Music, Letters or the Arts at the Universities of Warwick (1987), Loughborough (1988), Durham (1989), Keele (1992), Hertford (1995) and de Montfort (1997).
In 1993 he was presented with the Gold Award at the Sony Radio Awards for services to broadcasting and in 1996 with the prestigious Waterford Crystal Award by the Institute of Entertainment and Arts Management for outstanding contributions to the entertainment business. In April 2000 he achieved the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Post Office British Jazz Awards and, in July 2001 the similar award at the BBC Jazz Awards in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.
All the while he has continued to play full-time with his band, as well as broadcasting and writing. There have been collaborations in concert with Elkie Brooks, with whom he recorded an album on her label, and with singer Tina May. In 2006, he enlarged his band once more to eight-piece, attracting many enthusiastic reviews in the process.