Recording period between
"The first time I heard the name Lex Humphries was also the first time I heard jazz yodeling, and from the same lips!" rasped one of the world's acknowledged experts on syncopated music from his deathbed, where modest researchers tended to venture on pilgrimage, hopes high that there would be an opportunity to slip a question in.
Lex Humphries, the drummer, was indeed part of the pickup band that accompanied vocalist Leon Thomas for a live performance at the 1970 Berlin Jazz Festival, subsequently available in both LP and CD versions. By the time Thomas shouted out Humphries' name for the introductions on-stage, the drummer's career was well into its second decade. He would pile up a large pile of recording credits, as many as 70 sides, yet still nabbed a mere five lines' worth of biography in Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz. A highlight of this short life sketch is the fact that Humphries had a brother who played conga drums.
Something of an understated drummer, Humphries eventually merited note as a steady collaborator with bandleaders both fascinating and exotic, individuals seeking infusions of concepts from all over the globe -- even from outer space. At the time of the Feather publication, the drummer had more of a reputation as a solid bebop rhythm section man, progressing during the '50s from Chet Baker to Dizzy Gillespie before becoming part of an all too brief collaborative venture with the superb Art Farmer and Benny Golson. Naming only Philly Joe Jones as a major influence, Humphries may not have seemed a likely contender for the bands of both Yusef Lateef and Sun Ra, not to mention the yodeling Thomas. His hero Jones would also inevitably seek out possibilities to play avant-garde jazz.
As a bopper, Humphries may have just missed the boat, more than making up for it by catching a ride on Sun Ra's flying saucer. In the "could have been a contender" category, Humphries was part of a rhythm section that recorded an early version of the composition "Giant Steps" with and by John Coltrane. This version, however, did not make the original 1960 LP of the same name, a big hit, instead biding time on a shelf until a set of alternate tracks was released nearly 15 years later. Humphries can be seen in the Sun Ra film entitled Space Is the Place. The Encyclopedia of Jazz does manage to reveal that he was really Lex Humphries III. ~ Eugene Chadbourne