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Humph @ Oxford St.: Shake It and Break It

Following an interview with Lyttelton (my first and possibly worst), I took his suggestion and dropped my equipment off at Mack's Restaurant, spent the rest of the day checking out record stores, including the big HMV on Oxford Street. I returned to the club at seven o’clock, an hour before the band was to start, and did a quick, ad-lib setup. Placing my microphone on its stand in front of the raised platform, I found a spot for my tape recorder behind George Hopkinson's drums, and winged it. The tapes are unbalanced and a bit on the crude side, but they could have come out far worse considering that this was my first attempt at recording live music, that I was unable to make a balance test, and that my vu meter was just a so-called "magic eye" (you have to be up in age to remember those things; they were commonly used as tuning indicators on radios) .

This was my first time seeing the Lyttelton Club in action, I had only been there once, earlier in the day when it was Mack's Restaurant and I had lunch with Humph and his manager, Lyn Dutton. I guess I was expecting something akin to the Storyville Club, my new Danish hangout, so I was surprised when the doors opened and an odd assortment of people began to fill the large room. Young men wearing derbys and tight pin-striped suits with vests, young cigar-smoking girls with hair down to their waists, wearing one-piece black corduroy outfits. George Melly would conduct two of them in a bizarre dance a couple of days later, as I describe here. This crowd was very different from the one I knew in Copenhagen. pale, sickly looking people with enormous noses, sweaters that reached down to their knees and naked, dirty feet. This is not how I am remembering it sixty years later, it's how I wrote it down some sixty years ago.

The "Magic Eye"
I surprised me to see that no alcoholic beverages were served, not even near beer—this would be unthinkable in Denmark. There was a counter at each end of the room was one could purchase a rather brutal cup of English coffee, soft drinks, and hideous little, overly sweet cup cakes in various pastel colors.

I struck up a chat with Molly, who worked the counter nearest the entrance. She wasted no time telling me that she was in her eighties, which I found to be curiously refreshing, considering the environment. Molly knew the name of every musician who wandered in, which instrument he played and whose style he assimilated. She was equally well versed when it came to the British royal family and pointed with great pride to an ugly little greenish lump of pastry that, she said, with obvious pride, had recently been dubbed the “Elizabeth” cake. I had to tell her all about myself and how I had come from Denmark to record the Lyttelton band. I finally managed to get away, and as I was about to disappear into the crowd, Molly shouted, “You can be proud of your Queen Wilhelmina”. 
Before I knew it, Lyttelton stomped off, the band began to play, that little green eye winked at me, and the odd people began moving to the music, a weird, detached sort of dance in which partners never touched each other and people remained in their place, as if treading water. I remember that evening and, indeed, the days that followed, more clearly than I do this time last year. I have described elsewhere much of what took place during the next few days, when I missed my boat train at Liverpool Street Station, so here's a link to that.

And here is another number from that evening, "Shake It and Break It"


A Prez-idential panel in Harlem

The National Jazz Museum's Afternoon of a Basie-ite panel poses at the museum's visitors center, October 22, 2011. L to R: Lewis
Porter, Ethan Iverson, Ira Gitler, Loren Schoenberg, Chris Albertson, Dan Morgenstern.

It was an enjoyable Saturday afternoon devoted to Lester Young, with first-hand recollections, general discussion, and some amazing film footage and recordings. Museum Director Loren Schoenberg knows how to get it together. I recommend a visit to the museum, which is housed at 104 East 126th St. until work is done on the ultimate location, across the street from the Apollo Theater. The phone number is 212-348-8300 and this link will take you to their web site. 


Lionel and Gladys Hampton celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary in Copenhagen on the night of November 11th, 1953. They were in Denmark on a concert tour with a star-studded Hampton band that included Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, and  a singer named Annie Ross. The Hamptons and band were staying at the Richmond, which was not the classiest hotel in town, but a decent place that suited Gladys' budget—she was her husband's business manager and—as any sideman would tell you—quite frugal.

Gladys' penny pinching had the band traveling on a bus where others flew, but it did not prevent her from throwing an anniversary party at the hotel. Not an elaborate affair, just the band, tour crew, an ice sculpture and two local guests: Timme Rosenkrantz and yours truly. Timme, who had known Hamp for many years, kindly took me in tow, giving me my first rubbing shoulders experience with jazz greats. I was at that time involved in the running of the Storyville Club, so it occurred to me that some off the musicians might be persuaded to cap the night there. Well, not exactly there, but in a larger place that we could rent. Timme thought that was a splendid idea, so, when the party began to ebb, he helped me herd some of these star players into taxis. Hamp himself decided to make a brief appearance and when I mentioned that I had my tape recorder there, he said it was okay to record the "cats," but he wouldn't be performing.

Once there, surrounded by a youthful, enthusiastic crowd of Danes, he changed his mind and seated himself at the keyboard, next to pianist Jørgen Bengtson. Spotting my recorder on a table next to the piano, he told me to keep "that thing" off while he played. As I confessed to Hamp twenty years later, I did hit the record button, but I kept the lid on. In retrospect, Hamp was delighted to hear that I had ignored his request, and he asked for a copy of the tape. It was eventually destroyed by a fire in his apartment.

You can read more about the morning of November 12, 1953 and hear a couple of numbers from the jam session that took place if you go here. But first, you might want to listen to Hamp and the two-fingered mallet-styled piano performance that kicked off the night session. The other fingers belong to Jørgen Bengtson, who moved to Norway, where he lives in retirement. The sound quality leaves much to be desired, the opening bars are missing, and there is a short skip, but Anniversary Boogie—as I dubbed this piece for obvious reasons—is an engaging rapid-fire blues.


Echoes of Humph at Mack's, 1953

In March of 1953, I was an apprentice artist in the art department of Fona Radio, Denmark's largest chain of music stores. Fresh out of art school, this was my first job and I loved it, although my salary was insanely low. The art department created window displays for the company's shops, of which about five were in Copenhagen and the rest all over Denmark. As an apprentice, I was not yet entrusted with creative work, but even handling menial chores, such as painting backgrounds and fills, was better than working behind a counter or desk. Given my personal interests, there was much to be said for working in an art environment for a music-related company, and an added attraction was the employee discount that enabled me to purchase a recording machine on time payment.

We owe the principle of magnetic recording to a Dane, Valdemar Poulsen, who demonstrated it in 1898, but it had to wait a couple of decades before electronic amplification made it useful. During WWII, the Nazis began broadcasting magnetically reproduced propaganda—it sounded a lot clearer than phonograph recordings, and it offered enough playing time to capture an entire Hitler or Goebbels rant, but it obviously did not work as these guys wanted it to. Commercial use was another matter—imagine JATP, Coltrane or Cecil Taylor restricted to three minutes.

Humph at 100 Oxford Street, with slightly different personnel.
In 1953, magnetic recordings had just been introduced to Danish consumers via  Bang & Olufsen's first wire recorder. I had to have it, and working at Fona made that possible, but before I could do anything useful with this wire contraption, B&O launched its first tape recorder. That was it for me, and it didn't matter that it cost a year's salary, so I was soon dragging a sixty-pound black box up three flights of stairs to the back house apartment where I lived with my mother and her third husband. I had become quite good at smuggling in the occasional new jazz record that should have been a new pair of socks, or a shirt, but the wire recorder and subsequent upgrade posed a real challenge. I would not have gotten away with it if my mother was not also what we have since come to know as a "gadget freak." Of course, I lowered the price considerably when she asked about it, but I was a seasoned fibber when it came to such things.

Let me pause here to apologize for the redundant nature of this entry—some of it has appeared here in another connection, but my approach to this blog is not linear, so it was inevitable that I would occasionally cross my own, previously recollected paths. This one can be found in my earlier reminiscences about Karl Knudsen and the Storyville Club.

As I may have mentioned, I was shy to a fault in my younger days, but that—and matching naïveté—may well have been what drove me to do some rather bold things, such as contact trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton. His Parlophone recordings were among my most prized possessions and, not having the foggiest knowledge of contractual obligations and union restrictions, I dashed of a letter to Humph. In it, I informed him that I would be coming to London for the purpose of gathering material for a jazz program to be aired by Radio Denmark. In that connection, I wished to record his band and an interview. 

The truth was that I had no connection with DR (Danmarks Radio), nor, in fact, the fare that would get me to London. Driven, in part, by a strong need to be accepted into the inner circle of Copenhagen's foot-stomping jazz scene, I naïvely took pen in hand. As I recalled in an earlier entry (Melly, Mick...London 1953), the swift response from Humph's manager, Lyn Dutton, came as a surprise: 

It had never occurred to me that unions might pose a problem, but I had a feeling that Mr. Dutton was leaving the door ajar, so I began to scrape together money for a third class passage to London. On March 12, 1953, leaving behind a drastically diminished record collection, I boarded a third class car on the London boat train with a round-trip ticket and just enough money to get by—or so I thought. What follows, mostly repeats a previous post. 

Customs inspectors gave me a hard time in Harwich, having never before seen a tape recorder and not quite knowing what it was, but I got the nod and made it to London and Mr. Kerpner's Guest House in Earl's Court— £2 a week, with breakfast.

I phoned Lyn Dutton, who suggested that I join him and Humph for lunch at 100 Oxford Street on the following day. It was here that the band played at night. I don't have to tell you that I was a nervous wreck, but I made it through lunch and was delighted when Humph suggested that we do the interview that afternoon and that I record the band that evening, telling anyone who might ask that it was strictly for my own enjoyment.

I have for several decades kept a discography-style list of my recorded sessions. Here are the two
        pages documenting the 1953 Humphrey Lyttelton session. Click on image to enlarge.

Nobody asked and I filled two reels of tape that night. It was monaural, of course, but pure luck had me place my single B&O ribbon microphone advantageously, except for Johnny Parker's piano, which was too far away. I can at last fulfill my promise to post actual recordings if and when I unearthed them and acquired a working reel to reel tape deck. Last week, I found the former in a closet and the latter on e-bay, so here is the first of the Lyttelton recordings, Chicago Buzz. Humph also plays clarinet on this one, as does Bruce Turner, and drummer George Hopkins turns to the washboard. I will include a detailed description of the Lyttleton Club (i.e. Mack's Restaurant) when I post more sounds from this evening.