Once referred to by the great Louis Armstrong as ”that cat in England who swings his ass off”, Humphrey Lyttelton was an eloquent, talented and much-loved broadcaster – in addition to playing a mean trumpet. He was born today in 1921.
Jazz musician and broadcaster Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton aka “Humph” was born in Eton, Surrey. The son of a schoolmaster who was employed at the well-known public school, Humph was schooled at Eton and had begun playing jazz trumpet at the age of 15, later seeing wartime service as a Grenadier guardsman.
Later studying at Camberwell Arts Schoo, Lyttelton began working as a cartoonist for the Daily Mail newspaper and joined trad jazz outfit George Webb’s Dixielanders. Establishing his own band in 1948 along with clarinetist Wally Fawkes from the Dixielanders, a short run of 78s were released on his own London Jazz label.
Gaining a contract with Parlophone, Humph’s popularity increased and he opened his own jazz club on London’s Oxford Street (that later became the 100 Club), updating his “trad” stance to a more swing/bop-infused sound. 1956 meanwhile brought him chart success with his own tune, “Bad Penny Blues” with maverick producer Joe Meek at the controls – although the artist pronounced himself dissatisfied with the results.
In addition to his playing career, club ownership and various writing roles, Humph also developed a reputation as a broadcaster and presented numerous radio programmes including Jazz Scene, Jazz Club and The Best of Jazz – the latter of which ran for 40 years on the BBC. He also chaired the Radio 4 show, “I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue” once fittingly described as a “half-hour of innuendo and improvised tomfoolery.”
Establishing his own record label (Calligraph Records) in 1983, Humph released both his own albums and those of various contemporaries and band colleagues. He also briefly found himself at the epicentre of the rock zeitgeist in 2001, when contributing to the track, “Life In A Glasshouse” that appeared on Radiohead ‘s album, “Amnesiac”.
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And here’s some footage of Humph in action: