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:
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!
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,