Pete Strange

Trombonist for Humphrey Lyttelton
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The Independent Online

The trombonist Pete Strange joined the Humphrey Lyttelton band 21 years ago and stayed there until his death.

Peter Charles Strange, trombonist, arranger and composer: born London 19 December 1938; married (one son, one daughter); died Banstead, Surrey 14 August 2004.

The trombonist Pete Strange joined the Humphrey Lyttelton band 21 years ago and stayed there until his death.

Reciprocal loyalty and off-stage friendships mean that the band is like a family, with Lyttelton a benign father. It made an ideal home for Strange, a man who undervalued his talent but who flowered, with Lyttelton's encouragement, into a formidable all-round jazz musician. Already outstanding as a trombonist, in later years he became one of the most imaginative writers and arrangers in the field.

Strange's lack of self- confidence made him a worrier - he would needlessly book hotels months in advance and pore endlessly over travel details. His nickname, bestowed by the band, was "Worried of Banstead" and when the Lyttelton band toured the Middle East its bassist Paul Bridge bought the trombonist a set of worry beads. It was on the same trip, sightseeing with Lyttelton, that Strange was driven by car up a desert mountain.

"What will we see at the top?" asked Strange.

"Vultures," said the guide.

There was silence in the back of the car.

"They do wait until you're dead?" asked Strange.

First taught the violin, Strange began, aged 18, as a New Orleans-style trombonist in the banjoist Eric Silk's Southern Jazz Band in 1956. He and the band's trumpeter Alan Littlejohn already had leanings towards Mainstream, a jazz style regarded as sacrilege by the purists. While he recycled Kid Ory for the audiences, Strange was already listening to Duke Ellington records for solos by Lawrence Brown, a master trombonist. But even then he was forming his own sound and his early playing was notable for its clean, fat tone.

When Silk's clarinettist Teddy Layton left to form his own group in 1957, Strange went with him and over the next few years played in traditional bands led by Sonny Morris, Charlie Gall and the trumpeter Ken Sims, before making the most important move of his career so far when he joined the eccentric saxophonist Bruce Turner in 1961.

Turner and his trumpeter John Chilton were in a different league and, with Strange, made up the front line of the Bruce Turner Jump Band, a skilled, polished and potent mainstream band that provided the perfect setting for the trombonist.

Leaving Turner in 1964, Strange gave up full-time playing for a period, but worked for a variety of Dixieland band leaders including Freddy Randall, Joe Daniels and Ron Russell. He returned in the mid Seventies and worked again with Turner and Russell. He played for the trumpeter Alan Elsdon and the two men became founder members of the repertory Midnite Follies Orchestra in 1978. With trombonist friends, Strange put together and wrote for Five-A-Slide in 1980.

Strange's writing became a key element in Lyttelton's output and he wrote instinctive settings for the many vocalists who worked and recorded with the band, notable amongst them Elkie Brooks, Stacey Kent and Helen Shapiro. Americans too, such as the tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, romped through Strange's charts.

Lyttelton's radio work chairing I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue for BBC Radio 4 and presenting The Best of Jazz for Radio 2 left his musicians time to freelance elsewhere and amongst Strange's distinguished writing in his later years were the scores for Val Wiseman's Lady Sings The Blues package, a celebration of the music of Billie Holiday. In 1994 Strange founded and wrote for the all-star Great British Jazz Band.

Strange and Lyttelton collaborated in composition too, and the trumpeter composed the piece that was to become the trombonist's finest showcase, "The Strange Mr Peter Charles". "We owe the title to a transit form which we were required to fill in on a trip abroad," said Lyttelton. "The headings were Family Name . . . Title . . . First Names . . . When Peter Charles Strange handed in his form, the title was there in block capitals."

Steve Voce