HUMPHREY LYTTELTON’S NOBLE SIMPLICITY

Had you asked me my opinion of the song MAIRZY DOATS, I would have been quick to call it an exquisitely stupid song.  And I still hold that opinion.  But great art has transforming force. 

Observe:

That’s the last song of a televised performance by the late Sir Humphrey Lyttelton and his band at the Brecon Jazz Festival — sharp eyes will note Scott Hamilton as part of that reed section.  And the personnel rolls by at the end.

But my eyes and ears are drawn to the aging — indeed, the aged Lyttelton — who had long since learned the lessons of beautiful earnestness, simplicity, and emotional directness.  All of that made his choice of material an irrelevancy, as he was busy wearing his heart on his sleeve, convincing an audience by passionate example that the notes he was playing at that very moment were the most crucial and moving notes in the world.  His art was stripped down to its barest — and most essential — things, in the manner of another trumpeter, someone named Louis. 

This performance also proves one of my theories — learned by listening to Ruby Braff — that most melodies emerge as wondrous things when slowed down to ballad tempo.  Most jazz players accelerate their repertoire through the years, the opposite of what they might learn to do. 

If you don’t find this a very moving two minutes — not because of infirmity to be pitied, but for majesty –I implore you to watch it once again.  I am awe-struck by what Sir Humphrey does here.  It will stay with me a long time.

6 responses to “HUMPHREY LYTTELTON’S NOBLE SIMPLICITY

  1. Thank you, Michael, for that lovely clip with Humph. I used to spend my pocket money buying his Parlophone records and when I got my first tape recorder, in 1953, he allowed me to record his band at 100 Oxford Street and gave me my very first interview. He was gracious, I was terrible.

  2. Thank you for that one. Brings a tear to the eye…I’ll go back to the Parlophones now a.s.a.p.

  3. Well, any relistening to Sir HL is bound to have salutary effects. But the funny thing is that you won’t often find this partiicular kind of sorrowing majesty in his band playing. I think it happens a good deal when he was able to step away from the band — the duets with pianist Mick Pyne, and what might be my favorite recording in this mode, his half-tempo exploration of the originally bouncy tune (c. 1941) SCATTERBRAIN — originally on Stomp Off with Kenny Davern and Al Casey, then reissued on Lake Records (I believe). I also think, not to belabor the point, that what we hear in MAIRZY DOATS is a late-life awareness and emotional maturity — somewhat like Lear playing trumpet! — that as his embouchure aged, and he couldn’t hit every note he once had, he KNEW much more about what notes to hit and how to hit them. It is a kind of wisdom that we are lucky enough to come to very late . . . I hope for all of us! Cheers, Michael

  4. Thanks, Michael, that’s great.

    I’m going to be on a Pam Pameijer’s New Jazz Wizards recording session in tribute to Humph later this year. I’m honored to be included!
    I believe the band will be, in addition to Pam on drums and perhaps washboard, Jerry Zigmont on trombone, Bill Novick on reeds,
    Conal Fowkes on bass, Matthew Munisteri on guitar, and Ross Petot on piano.
    Maybe I should suggest this tune…hard to accomplish what Humph did with it though! Maybe I should wait about 40 years for that.

  5. Michael,

    Many thanks for bestowing an ‘honourary’ knighthood on Humph. Many people wanted him to be Sir Humphrey, including the Queen on two occasions, but he refused both times.

    Not everybodies cup of tea as a trumpeter but like Condon put some great bands together.

    Marion McPartland was also a great one for playing very well worn tunes at very slow tempos to wonderful affect – C-Jam blues on her album The Single Petal of a Rose: The Essence of Duke Ellington is a prime example.

    Lake has just issued on CD two LP’s under the title Humphrey Lyttelton and his European Friends two being Bent Persson and Jean Francois Bonnel – well worth a punt.

    Keep swinging,

  6. As you know, dear Bob, my grasp of titles and honorifics *that should be honourifics) has always been faulty. He’s a knight of the slow ballads, though, isn’t he?! And thanks for mentioning that new CD: I will have to spring for it at Whitley Bay or before — where, I am sure, we will see you! Cheers and more, Michael

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