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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Humph: Still swinging at 80
Humphrey Lyttelton
Humphrey Lyttelton: 80 not out
Rock band Radiohead are only the latest musicians to appreciate the talent of the great British jazzman Humphrey Lyttelton - invariably known as 'Humph' - who turned 80 on Wednesday.

Count Basie's trumpet player Buck Clayton said: "If Humph had been an American, he would have been compared with the greatest."

And Louis Armstrong always spoke warmly of the man he called "that cat in England who swings his ass off."

Humphrey Lyttelton
Humph quickly established himself on the scene
But, great though he is, Humph has never been content with music alone.

He is a cartoonist, calligrapher, broadcaster and has written seven books.

Hundreds of thousands of listeners have been introduced to the delights and difficulties of jazz through his Radio 2 series the Best of Jazz - which he has presented for 30 years.


Humphrey Lyttelton was born on 23 May, 1921.

Both his parents were amateur musicians and Humph began playing the trumpet in 1936, forming a school quartet - at Eton - later that year.

After serving as an officer in the Grenadier Guards during World War II, in 1949 he started working as a cartoonist at the London Daily Mail, where he remained until 1956.

During this time he became a major presence on the British jazz scene.


Musically, Humph has always been his own man, starting out playing New Orleans jazz, and then becoming an avid mainstreamer, playing more in the style of Count Basie's small groups.

Humphrey Lyttelton
Humph's biggest hit was Bad Penny Blues in 1956
He has always written music prolifically, although he says that of the 200 or so tunes he has composed, 199 have sunk without trace, the exception being his hit record 'Bad Penny Blues', which spent 6 weeks in the charts in 1956.

His band has also backed several singers, ranging from New Orleans songstress Lillian Boutté to Helen Shapiro, and more recently, Stacey Kent.


Occasional broadcasting led to residencies as host with the BBC TV programmes Jazz 625 and Jazz Goes to College, and to the BBC radio programmes Jazz Club, The Best of Jazz and the anarchic quiz show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

In 1993 Humph received a Sony Gold Award for services to broadcasting, and in 2000 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Post Office British Jazz Awards.

See also:

28 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Jazz legend joins Radiohead
26 Mar 01 | Music
The last jazz revolutionary?
12 Feb 01 | Wales
BBC deal rescues Brecon Jazz
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