HUMPH

Well, good friends, I’m sure that by now you’ll know that HUMPHREY LYTTELTON passed away peacefully around 7pm on Friday April 25th 2008.

 Although he HAD to be mortal, I believe we all cherished the hope that Humph would go on for ever. He was woven into the fabric of British jazz in so very many ways – and was (one of his lesser achievements!) – one of the principal reasons I took up the trumpet. For me the instrument held the same seductive fascination that Humph describes in his first volume of autobiogaphy ‘I play as I please’ in 1954. Do read his other books; there are lots and they are models of autobiography and jazz critique.

He was our beacon, our standard-bearer and quite the greatest spokesman for our music over many generations – as well as a bandleader whose discography spanning sixty years is comprehensive and consistently artistic….he led what he always lovingly called ‘my band’ for longer than either Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington led theirs.

 Critic Steve Voce  was one of Humph’s greatest friends and the day after Humph’s death I wrote to him, knowing of the sadness he must be feeling. Later I copied some of the letter in another to Susan da Costa who piloted Humph’s professional life for most of his sixty-year career as his close friend and manager. Here’s a little of what I wrote to Susan:

Knowing of Steve Voce’s deep love for the man I dropped him an E-mail earlier today. Here is some of what I said to Steve.  My only redeeming thought is; what a magnificent example he’s left to us all. A bandleading career longer than Dule’s or Louis’.  An unbeatable and uninterrupted sixty-year discography. A vivid and prolific legacy as composer. An example of public declared communication of the love of every diverse area of his art which, via his broadcasts, inspired millions of listeners. A magnificent and fiery beacon of courage and leadership; from his cocked pistol on the wartime beaches to five minutes of ad-libbing about Joe Temperley when the CD player stuck! A bibliography which single-handedly dignified the business of jazz authorship from the l950s when much about him was Mezz’s purple prose. Senses of wit and humour which gave us more laughter than any other musician ever. A kindliness (and on occasion protracted compassion too!)-  linked, needless to say,  to solid musical judgment –  which nurtured generations of younger men and women in his bands. And so much more, which will come to me as soon as I’ve pressed the ‘send’ button. One thought occurred. When his – and our – treasured inspiration Bruce Turner passed away I’m sure Humph grieved deeply. But on he went, shielding his regrets, with new players – demonstrating the unfailing strength of purpose which typified his every action. I believe that he would have wanted us to do the same; live, benefit and learn from his tireless example of eighty years. Anything less would be to question and compromise the infallible principles he has left us. I’m proud to have known Humph – though not as well as you, Steve – and I think he would want us to stand strong, shout his name with pride and carry his incomparable – and tireless – legacy through what’s left of our own lives”.To my delight (though not my surprise)  good friend Steve was quickly back with an E-mail which  thought you might like to see:

Hello Digby,

Many thanks for your moving e-mail.

A couple of weeks ago Humph phoned me and told me about the aneurism. He said his surgeon thought he might not survive the operation. He phoned me again last Friday (a week ago) and said he was going in to have the operation on Monday.

The operation was a success and they found some more smaller aneurisms which they dealt with. Sewed him up, but kept him under the anaesthetic to help him overcome the shock. They couldn’t restore the circulation to one of his feet and there was a problem with his kidneys. They opened an artery in his leg to see if there was debris from the operation blocking it. There wasn’t. This meant he might lose a foot or leg up to the knee. Next day bad circulation in the other foot and very high blood pressure. The signs were very bad.

He was kept under the anaesthetic until he died on the Friday evening.

He helped me to write his obituary a couple of months ago!

Cheers

Steve

It’s good to know from Steve that Humph – at least – didn’t suffer. His band and many good friends – including the great Barry Cryer –  were around his bed shortly before he slipped away. This wonderfully talented, gracious, witty and passionate man who worked so tirelessly for his art is an irredeemable loss. Please leave any tributes you feel suitable with me and I’ll pass them on to the people who were closest to him.

Love to you all,

Digby

11 thoughts on “HUMPH”

  1. Thanks Humph for all the years of music and laughter you gave us all. The world is an emptier place without you.

  2. Thanks Adele; I’ll pass the message on to his manager. He was a great man and the funeral onTuesday 6 May at East Finchley Crematorium was packed! Many celebrities/Elkie Brooks sang. Barry Cryer spoke along with friends and family and it was a joyous occasion despite the said circumstances! Even the weather was glorious. I think the Big Man Upstairs must have been a fan!
    Best,
    Digby.

  3. Humph was a major influence on my life. At school he was the person who was mainly responsible for turning me onto the world of jazz. I still treasure, and listen to, the early Lyttelton band with Wally Fawkes – then came the magnificent Bruce Turner and the beautiful sessions with Elkie Brooks and the close association with Buck Clayton. After this the Humph mainstream bands never quite captured, for me, the exuberance of the earlier days – but always the bands provided the best played music. His last band which was filmed for BBC Channel 4 at the Brecon Jazz Festival gave us memorable lovely moments. His trumpet could be moving or exciting – he was a superb band leader and his could also finger a clarinet pretty well as I remember him playing with Wild Bill Davison.
    On radio Humph’s “Best of Jazz” was always worth listening to. His catholic taste could never suit the interests of all his listeners but I always appreciated his respect for traditionalists even though he had developed his musical style away from classic jazz.
    Then his books, always worth reading; so interesting and witty. The Flook cartoons with Wally Fawkes and George Melly – charming quirky humour.
    The Chairman of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” was maybe the best known Humph to the wider audience and like “Bad Penny Blues” both popular and good.
    Monday evenings are never going to be the same – when is Digby getting the invitation from the BBC to give us “The Best of Jazz” again?
    Thanks to Humph I have ploughed the field of jazz with greater knowledge and appreciation. The vital strength of Doctor Jazz always reminds us that despite many many horrors it is still a wonderful world.

  4. Absolutely Jerry! A fine tribute and perceptive summation (if I may say so) of Humph’s many talents.

    There’s to be a major TV tribute (on BBC2) at the end of July. Keep a lookout!

    Great to hear from you again. Hope all’s well……..

    Digby.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I’ve retired now – I know jazz musicians never retire! – so can listen to more music. I stopped scribbling about jazz many years ago and what outlets are there now? I think you should do entries on Humph and George Melly for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – they do updates on people and these two qualify I think.
    I’m afraid health problems mean I can’t get out much although things may improve soon, so hearing live jazz is difficult – not so easy on the radio these days either.
    Always glad to see you still active and thriving – not seen Rod Mason for years with him in Germany, he makes the odd trip to the UK so he is still keeping it together – an achievement in itself. Heard of a trad jazz musician fourty years old the other day! Is that a record?

  6. Hi Digby
    I have just received the sad news that Campbell Burnap passed away. I went online and, in looking for info about Campbell, I came across your site.
    I met Campbell in 1983 when he was playing with Acker Bilk and living in Dulwich. What a beautiful man. I was only in UK for a few months but brought back to Australia so many wonderful memories of Campbell. He was living in the basement apartment and we were staying with the incredible Frances up above.
    I cry for Campbell and for the loved ones he left behind. R.I.P. Campbell – you certainly were Mr Charm
    Bernadette from Mount Eliza, Victoria, Australia

  7. Digby
    So sorry to hear about Campbell Burnap. There is an obituary by Steve Voce from the Independent on the internet. He missed out Campbell playing in your band. I liked the Pat Halcox All Stars with Campbell but I once wrote to Campbell that the singing on their disc was Dire – he thought I was talking about the whole thing but I wasn’t. Introduced him to The Anachronic Jazz Band who came my way via John Jack and Mike Westbrook – a true marriage of traditional and modern jazz.
    Campbell was at his best, for me, as a radio dj. How much better than those paid exorbitant sums to babble. Campbell really knew his stuff and loved it.

  8. Would it be possible to have Steve Voce’s “E”mail address.
    I would like to help him Re Jazz Journal’s sad demise.
    I am a long time subscriber to the Journal.

    Best regards—Keith.J.Massey

  9. Digby:
    Further to my previous “E”mail.
    You had a word with a friend of mine last Saturday @ Berkhamsted Jazz
    about the J.J.& your idea was an online edition.I think this is a great
    idea.If you would rather not pass on Steves Voce’s “E”Mail address to me
    could you pass mine onto him,because I would like to help keep the J.J.
    going.
    There are a lot of us out there.

    Best regards—Keith.J.Massey

  10. Only just caught up with your blog and the Humph tribute. What memories. I used to hang around the stand at 100 Oxford St in the very early ’50s watching, listening and taking it all in (and watching the girls!) before I was press ganged for National Service. Then listening to his Parlophone 78s on a wind up gramophone in a hut in the wilds of Norfolk joining in on my old cornet. Not many of us left now…..

    Cheers from Michael in Australia

    The Tribute Sites
    Johnny Hodges http://tinyurl.com/zcv67
    Jack Teagarden http://tinyurl.com/7af2c

  11. Hi Diggers
    I just came across this page by chance and reading all of the posts
    it reminded me of what an amazing guy Humph was.

    Aristocratic attitudes are exactly what the UK needs in order for this country to remain a world leader.
    Humph was the complete package and as you have been spuddling away at the top of the Jazz scene yourself for a lengthy time, you would be better placed than others to understand what a massive contribution to the UK scene Humph made.
    He had guts, talent, drive, ambition, together with being a feet on the ground type who guenuinly loved the music and did someting about it.
    Just look at MY websire if you don’t believe me.
    I was completely unknown out there.
    Now i’m internationally known, all due to Humph’s kindness.
    RIP Humph. You were one of a kind.
    Barry Watson.

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