Thursday, May 1, 2008

Layer 25 Cool

Humphrey Richard Adeane Lyttelton, jazz musician, writer and broadcaster, born May 23 1921; died April 25 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton died last week. He was 86 years old and one of the coolest men on the planet. He was self-actualisation and Zen personified.

He loved art, music and laughter. He lived a life of continuous creativity on his own terms, and brought joy and laughter into the lives of anyone who knew him and anyone who watched him or listened to him perform.

“Politically, he was firmly, if surprisingly, on the left. Before joining the Grenadier Guards in 1941, he was sent to work in a south Wales steel mill to find out if he had the makings of a "captain of industry", but the experience turned him into a lifelong socialist.” (George Melly)

He taught himself to play a trumpet that he’d bought in the Charing Cross Road in 1936. After serving in WW2, with both rifle and trumpet, he went to art college. He became a musician and also a writer, broadcaster, cartoonist, composer, after-dinner speaker and critic.

“While music-making can be about bravura and bold proclamation, it is also about sharing, listening and waiting - and sympathetically responding. There is no conductor, often no score, so the latter qualities have to be even more finely tuned. These are not just pre-requisites for the making of good music, they are qualities for the making of a good life. An abundance of them is what made Humphrey Lyttelton special - and so widely loved, too.” (John Fordham, The Guardian)


This last paragraph pretty much sums up what self-actualisation and Zen are all about. This paragraph describes a man who had fully developed spiritual, social and emotional intelligence. As well as having talent and intellect, and as well as being highly creative in several fields, Humph knew how to share, how to listen to others, and when and how to sympathetically respond. He was indeed widely loved.

He was a band leader, but he was a ‘servant-leader’. He was the epitome of Taoist ideals. The great books of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, describe how leaders should fulfill their responsibilities, and Humph, being an enlightened leader, intuitively and instinctually seemed to ‘lead without leading’, as the books say. Although he never shirked ‘bravura and bold proclamation’ when those qualities were called for. He set out to work with the best people and to encourage them to give the best of themselves, and to become even better.

Jazz has always been about jamming. It’s about communication, interaction, improvisation, self-expression, group collaboration, getting the best out of yourself and out of other people who share your passion and your enthusiasm. It’s about putting yourself at the service of a group that’s trying to create something of quality, something meaningful and joyful, something worth sharing with a wider audience. It’s about playing and having fun. It’s about experimenting and trusting those around you to be original and experimental and creative, and getting further inspired by their creativity. It's about honest and direct musical expression of feelings ranging from joy to sadness, which is the blues, and jazz.

Having read a couple of obituaries I’ve picked up a list of words that describe Humph. They add up to a man who was totally cool. Everyone aspires to be cool, but most people know they will never be cool. Humph really was totally cool. He was cool when he was young, and he was still cool at the age of 86.

He was downbeat, understated, straightfaced, ironic, courteous, modest and moderate. But he had natural authority and could be intransigent and determined. He was broad-minded, charismatic, vibrant, funny, entertaining, enthusiastic and influential. “Fun was something he took very seriously”, wrote Jeremy Hardy, who also said Humph could show an austere demeanor, and that he had “disdainful and impassive lips that soon wrinkled into a lovely smile”. Hardy concludes that Humph was naturally and instinctively erudite and elegant, and that all in all “he was a beautiful man”. Blow that out your trumpet. That’s cool, man. (also contains other Humph links)


Apparently Humph wrote 8 books, one of which I picked up a while ago in the £2 bookshop in Greenwich - “It Just Occurred To Me . . . The Reminiscences and Thoughts of Chairman Humph.(2006)” It’s been sitting near the top of my pile of books waiting to be read.

The front cover quotes Pete Townshend, who, whatever you may think about him, isn’t exactly given to mindless enthusiasm or over-generous praise: “Humph is cool. Humph is now!”

To give you a flavour of the book here’s a quote from Humph’s introduction.

“It just occurred to me that writing this book has been very similar to blowing an extended solo on the trumpet - following thoughts wherever they’ve led, through a jungle of ideas and memories, quotations and clichés, high notes, blue notes and, no doubt, a few wrong notes, for which I apologise in advance. On second thoughts, no, I don’t. You’ll get precious few right notes if you worry about hitting wrong notes.”
A bit like a blog really. Improvise, and be damned. Get blogging! Express yourself!

Gonna miss you Humph.


Talking About Death, Talking About Life.

Friends are always shocked when I talk about death. “Well I am nearly 60, and I’ve had a very stressful life in some ways . . . ” I think it’s a big mistake not to consider the possibility of heart attacks, cancer, road accidents, whatever, and a mistake to deliberately avoid talking about funerals and wills. You need to sort these things out. It’s only fair.

I want my children to inherit my money, my house, and most of my worldly goods, such as they are. But they won’t want my precious vinyl collection, my CDs even, or most of my books. Or my diaries, notebooks and journals, though my grandchildren eventually might. A lot of my thousands of photos and videos won’t be of any great interest to them, especially the ones concerned with education. (Fortunately it’s easy to run off copies of the digital stuff for those who want them.) They won’t want my guitars, or even my cars. They won’t want my much loved and often played audio tapes. They definitely won’t want my cat, who is determined to outlive me.

Maybe I should just organise an auction for those friends and family who are interested in having any of my stuff, with the proceeds going to my children and grandchildren, or to charity. Anything not attracting bids could be just given away or thrown away. Which could well be most of it. Especially the cat. Then again, maybe auctions just favour the wealthiest, which wouldn’t be very fair.

I need to say loudly and clearly that I don’t want a funeral that’s in any way whatsoever concerned with God or Christianity. Got nothing against either of them. Just don’t want to have anything to do with them. No church, no chapel, no Bible, no priest.

Over the past couple of years I’ve needed to go to a number of funerals, all of them in churches and chapels, and all of them conducted by priests, or women who were very priestly. Every one a preacher. Every one droning out platitudes about life, death and God. Besides finding these things boring and frustrating I found them all quite disrespectful to the deceased and to the gathering.

I don’t blame the individuals - I’m sure they were sincere and were doing their best, as they saw it. But I don’t go to a funeral expecting to hear about and sing about the glory of God. I want to celebrate the life of the person I care about. I want to stay focused on the main business.

Most of the time these priests have never even met or known the surviving members of the family prior to the death, let alone the deceased. No wonder they pad it all out with waffle about God and Jesus and Heaven. They must surely get sick of doing it, the same stuff over and over, just different backdrops and different audiences of mourners for their performances.

I don't envy them. It can’t be easy going round meeting people who have just lost a loved one, asking them to give some information that can be used at the funeral. Meeting people who aren’t necessarily very able to communicate insightful thoughts at the best of times, let alone when they’re full of grief. Though there presumably are some priests somewhere who are gifted at this kind of thing, and gifted at conducting inspirational and meaningful funeral services.

I definitely DO want someone to read out something from Zen and Taoist texts. Something wise and wonderful that might bring some spiritual insights to bear on the situation, something that might be helpful or useful to at least some of those who come to see me off. Something that’s maybe transcendental and joyful and uplifting. Something that’s philosophical and wise, and nothing to do with religion.

Maybe someone should read something that’s funny and likely to make people at least smile. The funnier the better. Much better than crying. I’ve got at least a couple of friends who could MC, tell jokes and stories.

And music. Sweet soul music. Blues and boogie. Rhythm’n’rock. Especially at the party afterwards. Finally I get to play the music I like at a party. Pity I won’t be there to enjoy it. Maybe I’ll organise a pre-funeral party. Have a kind of dress rehearsal to make sure it’s going to go well. Ever the perfectionist.


The Today programme on Radio 4 today had a feature on death and on American academic Randy Pausch: “Is the taboo about death starting to lift? Listen to Jeff Zaslow who co-authored the book of "The Last Lecture", and to Mike Jarvis, director of the Natural Death Centre.”
Read more about Randy Pausch, and why he decided to do a lecture on life and death when he knew he had only a few weeks to live, on the links below. You can also view his lecture on YouTube. Life, how to live it, and what lessons to take from it (see examples below).
This is another very cool guy. Only 46. Tragic.

"Never lose your childlike wonder. It’s what drives us.
Tell the truth and be earnest
Believe in karma.
Pursue childhood dreams and try to achieve them, but more than anything, live your life well."

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