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Review: Humphrey Lyttelton Celebration

Humphrey Lyttelton Celebration
(HMV Hammersmith Apollo, April 25th 2010)

UPDATE 28th April. The first estimate of money raised at the concert for the Humph Trust is £67,ooo. (Wow!)

“It felt more like a party than a concert – but that’s what it was meant to be.”

Stephen Lyttelton’s words, bringing to a close the celebration which he had organized of his late father, rang completely true. The evening, two years to the day since Humph’s death, which brought together a panoply of stars from jazz and comedy to perform for a packed-out 3,600-seater Hammersmith Apollo, was a complete triumph.

It started with Stephen Lyttelton announcing the first recipient of a new award in honour of his father for a student at the Royal Academy of Music: trumpeter Tom Walsh, who played a fluent solo on Horace Silver’s Song for my Father. The obvious dedicatee of this opening number was subtly left unsaid: a nice touch.

Stephen Lyttelton pointed out that Humph had been utterly dedicated to the mission of helping young jazz musicians. So the creation of a durable annual award through the Humph Trust was unquestionably the right purpose for the evening. Indeed, as the performance progessed, there seemed to be more and more evidence of the success of Humph’s endeavours to support British jazz. Musicians who had benefited from his completely benign influence were to appear, one after another. The singer Elkie Brooks, who had sung with his band from the 60s, and Stacey Kent whose stint had been in the nineties, appeared alongside instrumentalists such as Karen Sharp and Robert Fowler.

The host of comedians who had worked with Humph on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue also remembered him during the evening. In turn, each gave his or her personal tribute with great fondness of the encouragement which Humph had given them, of the fine role model he had provided, and of the depth of his good nature. “Never lose touch with ‘silly,’ ” he had advised one.

But these endlessly inventive Radio 4 comedians were also there to entertain. They got straight down to business from their first of many entrances with some indispensable new definitions from the Uxbridge Dictionary, such as:

Insolent. Fell off the Isle of Wight Ferry.
Undeterred: Skid Mark
And one which got the first big laugh of the evening:
Metatarsals: A get-together at Jeffrey Archer’s

The comedic high jinks were to produce highlights such as the diner/orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally with the part of Meg Ryan played by a swanee whistle. Rob Brydon -with a fine voice and great projection – brought the house down with the words of “Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick” sung to the tune of “Delilah.”

The musical mainstay of the evening was the eight-piece Humphrey Lyttelton Band, which still performs regularly at the Bull’s Head in Barnes under the direction of Tony Fisher. They sounded on great form. Ensemble was precise and tight, they played the arrangements with both freshness and verve, and moved from style to style with ease. Jimmy Hastings played a hauntingly beautiful alto saxophone solo on Humph’s composition “Sound of a Sad Sweet Song,” sung with touching emotion by Sue Richardson, who also soloed on trumpet. Karen Sharp then played subtly and beautifully on “I got rhythm,” the band backing a resplendent and soulful Tina May.

The cause, the man, the memories had brought out a host of other guests: Kenny Ball’s Band chuntering headlong through “That’s a Plenty”, propelled by the fine Nick Milward; Wally Fawkes, making a rare and all the more welcome appearance on clarinet; Acker Bilk ‘s band featuring an explosive trumpet solo from Rico Tomasso; Rolling Stone Charlie Watts popping up alongside his childhood mucker from Kingsbury, the impeccable bassist Dave Green. Jools Holland provided some not completely extraneous detail surrounding the circumstances of his conception – it was after his parents had attended a Humph gig in 1956, and then launched into a joyful mash-up with fellow stride pianists Axel Zwingelberger and Ben Waters.

This was indeed a special celebration. They do these things well in the Lyttelton family: Stephen’s Herculean labour of filial affection came to its successful fruition last night, just as Humph had paid tribute to his father George in a touching preface to “George Lyttelton’s Commonplace Book, ” beautifully published by stone Trough Books in 2002.

That book quotes Anatole France: “Caressez longtemps votre phrase, elle finira par sourire.”

The audience which emerged onto Hammersmith Broadway after a great evening was certainly smiling.

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