Humphrey Lyttleton

Celebrated cartoonist and jazz trumpeter, with his band.
Oxford Playhouse, Wed January 16th 2008

July 10, 2008
Looking back on this event, with poignancy and sadness at the loss of a great man, doesn't do justice to the sense of life and vigour in the Jazz played by Humphrey Lyttleton and his band. It was clear that the packed audience in the Playhouse were mostly devoted jazz fans, greeting the titles with whoops and cheers. But there were also those who knew and appreciated Humph from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, signalling their approval at mentions of Samantha.

There aren't many people who have two sets of fans, and indeed two radio stations that they have so effectively won over. Like John Peel, Humphrey Lyttleton seemed warm and genuine, as serious about music as he was amusing to listen to. The persona in evidence between Jazz numbers was that of Bumbling Old Man, as Humph got half way through anecdotes and moved onto something else. But you got the impression that he was entirely on the ball, and that Old Man was as much an act as Grumpy Old Chairman always has been.

The music was fun, but it certainly wasn't comedic. All the band members were introduced, and respect to them was assiduously accorded - for songs they'd written, for solos they played, for how they'd joined the band. Many of the tunes had a sort of theme and variations style, with different instruments having a turn in the limelight, and the tune weaving in and out of solos and full band. It was all exceptionally polished, and the same combination of instruments could plunge you into different moods and tempos, from the very first note of the piece. 

Humph had to sit down once or twice for trumpeting, but seemed to have remarkable stamina both for the playing and the scrum of CD signing afterwards. I guess his vitality was a testament to doing something you enjoy. It really did look as if the performers were having fun, and so indeed were the audience. It's really sad that we can't hear Humph in person now, but thank God for recordings, which can still conjure up some of his irrepressible warmth and musicality.
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