R.I.P. Andy Hamilton MBE (1918-2012).
Thursday, June 07, 2012
I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Andy Hamilton, “The Grand Old Man of Birmingham Jazz”, on June 3rd 2012. An institution in his adopted city Hamilton came to national attention in the 1990’s with albums such as “Silvershine” and “Jamaica By Night”, the former featuring a plethora of high profile instrumental and vocal guests ranging from avant garde saxophonist David Murray to Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall. The second album demonstrated that the spirit of his native Jamaica was never far from Hamilton’s music.
Although I never actually got to visit Hamilton’s “HQ” at Cork’s Club at The Bear in Bearwood where he had a long standing residency I still managed to see him play on numerous occasions. These included visits to the tiny Blue Note Cafe Bar in my home town of Leominster, Herefordshire. These were good humoured gigs with Hamilton and his appropriately named group The Blue Notes playing some wonderful music and providing some great entertainment for the people of jazz starved Leominster. Ever the gentlemen Andy signed my copies of both the albums mentioned above, and added the date-March 3rd 2001.
More recently I’ve seen him perform at the first two Mostly Jazz festivals, held each July in Moseley Park, Birmingham. A liittle frailer now he played less and delegated more solo space to the members of his band but his own contributions were as incisive and cogent as ever. He even seemed to bring some of that Jamaican sunshine with him, those two festivals were blessed with the most wonderful weather. With Andy gone what can we expect this year? It won’t be quite the same without him that’s for sure.
R.I.P. Andy, thanks for the music and for enriching the cultural life of Birmingham and beyond.
PRESS RELEASE FROM WORLD CIRCUIT RECORDS
We have also received the following press release from Andy’s record company, World Circuit Records;
1918 – 2012
We are sad to announce that one of the great jazz saxophonists, Andy Hamilton, died on Sunday 3rd June. He was 94. Arriving in Britain with the first wave of West Indian immigrants in 1949, he settled in Birmingham and remained there all his life. In 2008 he was awarded an MBE.
Andy Hamilton’s life was a long and remarkable one. Born in 1918 in Port Maria, Jamaica, his first exposure to music was at church and on the family piano and in 1928 he formed his first band, Silvershine, playing regularly across the island. After a spell in the USA supporting the war effort, he returned to Jamaica to be discovered by Hollywood legend, Errol Flynn and spent the following two years working with Flynn and playing music on his yacht, The Zaca. It was in 1948 that he composed for Flynn what became a well-known jazz calypso tune, ‘Silvershine’. Andy was not to play the song again until 1986 but it was a song that was to change his life.
Moving to Britain in 1949 was not easy and after finding it almost impossible to even find guest spots in Birmingham he decided to teach local musicians how to play, formed his own band, The Blue Notes, with fellow Jamaican pianist Sam Brown and set up his own venues, which he did and continued to do for over 60 years in Birmingham, inviting many of the world’s great jazz musicians. Art Farmer, Sweets Edison, Joe Newman and many more shared his stage.
In 1985 Andy was taken to hospital in a diabetic coma and was not expected to recover - but incredibly he did. He explained that he felt himself floating away when he heard the song ‘Silvershine’ and found himself playing on the deck of The Zaca with Errol Flynn dancing “in a real sharp suit” and telling Andy to “keep playing that song”. He came out of the coma with the song still in his head, called Sam Brown and sang the song to him “so it didn’t get away again “.
His big break came soon after this when an article by jazz journalist, Val Wilmer, earned him a slot at the Soho Jazz Festival and from there he won a recording contract with World Circuit Records, releasing his debut album, Silvershine, aged 72. It featured Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall and tenor sax giant, David Murray and became the biggest selling UK jazz album of the year, The Times Jazz Album of the Year and one of Sony 50 International Albums of the Year. In 1992 he released his second album, Jamaica By Night, also on World Circuit Records.
Shows followed all over the world - St Lucia, Jamaica, Paris, Milan, WOMAD and in 2006 he headlined at Cape Town Jazz Festival, in 2007 performed with the Buena Vista Social Club and in 2009 played alongside his great friend David Murray and The Roots with Ornette Coleman at the Royal Festival Hall’s ‘Meltdown’ Festival.
Andy’s great passions were teaching and organising music and he was a band leader almost continuously from 1928 till his passing. His work with young musicians was a daily joy, typified by his setting up two young big bands, The Blue Pearls in the 80’s and more recently The Notebenders, with whom he worked tirelessly and with great enthusiasm.
Recognition, which he never sought, came late in life. He was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Birmingham University in 1996, a Millenium Fellowship award in 2000 for his work in community education plus a Fellowship of Birmingham Conservatoire in 2008. Honours from the Jamaican Government and finally the MBE were awarded that same year for his services to music, coinciding with his 90th birthday.
“He was a man who gave to the city he loved. He mostly gave and he did more for people than any other man or woman I knew.” Birmingham historian, Professor Carl Chinn
Andy Hamilton loved music, loved people and hated injustice. He was strikingly handsome, always dressing in great style, was a constant source of wise advice and opinion on almost any topic and devoted his life to people “having a good time” through music.
His last performance was in March at his 94th birthday, sharing the stage with his band, his son Mark and Soweto Kinch to whom Andy had encouraged and supported from an early age.
He passed away peacefully, surrounded by family in the early hours of June 3rd 2012.
Andy is survived by Mary, his wife of 61 years, a huge family and a city and jazz community saddened by his passing but deeply grateful for being part of his extraordinary life.
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