The amazing life of Brum jazzman Andy Hamilton, who played for Errol Flynn, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming and has just turned 94

The following feature on Jamaican-born jazz legend, Andy Hamilton, was written by Steve Bradley and published in the Birmingham Mail.

“I GET quite angry – he should be given the freedom of the city.”

So says Birmingham historian Prof Carl Chinn about jazz saxophonist Andy Hamilton – still going strong at 94.

Hamilton, who arrived in Britain in the first wave of West Indian immigrants in 1949, came with a real pedigree as musical director on Hollywood legend Errol Flynn’s yacht Zaca.

But he has experienced some crushing ‘downs’ sprinkled with a few significant career ‘ups’.

Despite earning an MBE in 2008 for services to music and young people in Birmingham, he has endured racism, sometimes accompanied with violence, and had to battle to win regular gigs for himself and his band The Blue Notes.

Born in 1918 in Port Maria, Jamaica, Hamilton heard early US radio broadcasts and was exposed to the music of the Jazz Age in the 1920s.

Displaying a rare talent, he came to the attention of heartthrob Flynn, who owned the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica’s Port Antonio.

“I think it was 1946 and I was playing there with my band on the terrace,” Hamilton recalled.

“Flynn had just come back from Hollywood and danced real close with his wife for a couple of numbers.

“The next morning a car and chauffeur arrived outside my house and the man said ‘Robin Hood wants to see you’.

“We went down to the harbour where he was on Zaca. Flynn said he liked my music and offered me a regular spot at his hotel.

“The Titchfield was the best hotel in Port Antonio so it was a good day for me and my band.

“He sure liked a good time. He had bought a small island called Navy Island and he used to have big parties there.

“One time he invited the whole crew of an American Navy cruiser, my band would play by the beach and there was a lot of dancing and people having a good time.

“People like Noel Coward and Ian Fleming lived close by and there would be lots of late-night parties.

“Flynn was a real good dancer and dressed real sharp. We became good friends and he kept saying I should go back and play in America but I came to England instead.”

Docking at Southampton, Hamilton took a train to London, then travelled to Manchester, but in little over a week chose Birmingham.

Hamilton made his base at a house in Trafalgar Road, Moseley, owned by Prof Chinn’s aunt Violet and Jamaican uncle Johnny Brown. “It was real tough at times, some places would not let us in and sometimes there was trouble but most people were friendly.

“I remember going to a jazz club with my sax and got invited up on stage and did a couple of numbers which went down real well.

“I was really happy but when I went back the next week they just ignored me.

“I went home real sad and decided the best thing to do was organise my own band and find places to play.”

Gigs followed at venues like the Tower Ballroom, Rum Runner, Chaplins, Cedar Club, plus nightspots in Coventry and Wolverhampton.

But in the 1950s he was attacked by fascists at a gig he had organised, losing his front teeth.

Hamilton, who married a white woman, Mary, said: “I had started a night and it had got popular, then one night a group of young guys came in and you could see they were looking for trouble.

“In a break one of them walked onto the stage and picked up my sax.

“I went up to him, real cool, and asked him to give it back but he was drunk and punched me in the face.

“The police came, I was arrested and had to go to court.

“A policeman who knew me spoke up for me and the case was dismissed – I am not sure what happened to the guy but I never saw him again.”

After decades of performing, Hamilton’s big break came when an article by renowned jazz journalist Val Wilmer earned him a slot at the Soho Jazz Festival in London.

From there he won a record contract with the World Circuit label to make his first-ever recording, aged 72.

Hamilton called the 1991 album Silvershine, named after a long-forgotten tune he had written for Flynn, and it featured Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall and US tenor sax giant David Murray.

Work was easier to come by after that, at least for a while, with shows in St Lucia, at the South African Jazz Festival, and WOMAD festivals across Europe.

He has since won an honorary master of arts degree from Birmingham University and a Millennium Fellowship award for his work in community education, to which he recently added a fellowship of Birmingham Conservatoire.

But although he holds down regular gigs at Bearwood Corks Club and in the Symphony Hall bar, he had to battle for years to get a slot at the Birmingham Jazz Festival. And his band, which has featured two of his sons, Graeme and Mark on trumpet and saxophone respectively, is made to feel it still has something to prove.

Andy said: “There have been some tough times with a big family and with a six or seven-piece band to pay and equipment to buy.

“I have never really made any money from music, I am certainly not rich. It made me very proud to get an MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace but it doesn’t help pay any bills.”

For the original post: The amazing life of Brum jazzman Andy Hamilton, who played for Errol Flynn, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming and has just turned 94 – Top Stories – News – Birmingham Mail.

Also: Repeating Islands

National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica celebrates 50th anniversary

Marcia Rowe, Jamaica Gleaner writer, reports on the observation of the 50th anniversary of the Jamaica’s National Dance Theatre Company.

In 1961, at the invitation of Norman Manley, 18 leading dancers from different dance schools were thrown together to form the Jamaica Dance Company. They had no repertoire. The following year, 1962, under the same name, they danced at Jamaica’s Independence celebration. But, in September of that year, all the dancers left the original schools that they were part of; and decided to establish themselves as the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).

Fast forward 50 years later with an extensive repertoire, many international tours, a studio of their own, a feeder school, many new faces, the NDTC celebrates its 50th year of existence.

“None among them [the founding members] could have predicted that the company would have accomplished all that it has,” said Barry Moncriefe, NDTC artistic director, at the Company’s 50th anniversary launch last Thursday.

“The company has managed to sustain interest in and support for Jamaican dance theatre over five decades, and is revered as one of Jamaica’s most loved cultural treasures. It is for this reason that we remain resolute to our vision to forge out of the Jamaican and Caribbean culture and life, an art form faithful to reality while being a part of a wider world and universal landscape of the creative arts,” continued the longstanding company member.

Barbara Gloudon, in her capacity as chairman of the Little Theatre Movement (LTM), lightened the mood at the NDTC Studio, saying: “I am not going to be formal and stiff.”

“The LTM and NDTC relationship speaks for itself, we need each other,” she said, before continuing to creatively embroider her personal experiences with the NDTC into her speech.

First overseas tour

She recounted her first overseas tour with NDTC to Canada as a young journalist at The Gleaner.

“The first tour was a birth of what happened after – to travel the world.” There were to be numerous adventures along the way including a “nice time in Atlanta”.

With an imaginary glass raised, she said, “We celebrate a part of Jamaica that cannot be destroyed, what a joy you have brought to this country.”

With the dance floor of the NDTC studio as the stage, the delightful evening’s programme flowed with a message from the chairman of the Rex Nettleford Foundation, Carlton Davis, a vote of thanks from NDTC Musical Director, Marjorie Whylie, and excerpts from the company’s’ repertoire. The dances were performed by the now generation of dancers.

The dances ranged from works from the young choreographer to the old, from the classic to the contemporary.

The entertainment package danced off with Oneil Pryce-choreographed Barre Talk. It was followed by Clive Thompson’s Phases of the Moon. Sandwiched between two of Netleford’s works, The Crossing and Odyssey, was a lovely presentation from the NDTC Singers.

Living founding member

Some time later, after the formalities, The Gleaner caught up with one of the seven living, founding members of NDTC, Bert Rose.

He described the journey of the company as wonderful.

“Nettleford had a vision. When we started, we never knew that we would have celebrated 50 years. Only seven of us are still alive out of 18,” said Rose.

He further explained that “Eddy Thomas and Rex Nettleford were the two main choreographers. Rex wanted to do something that was Jamaican. And we were not going to copy. So he started with our own folk forms as a source for choreography. We use the Graham principles and the Jamaican style and mix them together to create a Jamaican technique. We do not know if we have gotten it yet, we are still growing.”

“Eddy Thomas’ first choreography was called Legendary Lovers Leap, and Rex did a piece called Plantation Revelry,” Rose said, of the beginnings of the company.

Rose also went on to explain some of the challenges of development the company faced.

“We swept the stage, we painted the backdrop, ironed our clothes, ran box office,” Rose said.

“There is no need for the now generation to do that anymore.”

As the company developed, they got someone to wash the costumes and hired a costume mistress.

“We had to build a company. They are coming into a readymade company and so things are different now.”

Other noted changes over the years are the shift in the choice of musical genre and the incorporation of international choreographers like Cuban-born Edwardo Rivero Walker.

Davis was the MC for the evening. Just a couple weeks into the position, he explained that one of his reasons for accepting the post was his belief that this sort of cultural organisation should be supported.

It represents the best of Jamaica. And what is to be expected under his stewardship?

“One of the things I am trying to do is to put it at a better financial position, on a more long term basis, get people to make commitment.”

The year-long NDTC 50th anniversary celebration will continue with the usual calendar events as well as some new ones. The evening was also used to launch the NDTC website.

For original report: NDTC begins celebration of its 50th – Entertainment – Jamaica Gleaner – Tuesday | February 7, 2012.

Emancipation Jubilee 2011 a fitting tribute to our ancestors

Drums beat the language of freedom Sunday night at Emancipation Jubilee 2011 in Seville, St Ann, paying respects to ancestors who fought and died to break the bonds of slavery over 170 years ago.

A huge audience turned out to celebrate the event, held under the theme “Let the drums talk,” with support coming from brothers and sisters from continental Africa, in the form of the Nigerian Dance Troupe (Nigeria) and the Tribanghi Cultural Group from South Africa.

The two overseas groups joined the likes of Kingston Drummers, Children of the Drums, along with other cultural groups from St Ann, St Mary, Hanover, Westmoreland, Portland, Kingston and other areas, for a spectacular show.

Full story: Emancipation Jubilee 2011 a fitting tribute to our ancestors – Lead Stories – Jamaica Gleaner – Tuesday | August 2, 2011.

 

Celebrating Freedom: Caribbean People commemorate Emancipation.

For the last quarter century, during the last week of July and the first of August annually, celebrations and commemorative events have been hosted in recognition of the Emancipation from slavery, which was proclaimed in the Caribbean in 1834 and fully enforced from August 1, 1838. These contemporary events are held throughout the region in many of the islands, such as the US Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Anguila, Antigua, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Montserrat, and Trinidad and Tobago. The South American mainland Caribbean nation of Guyana also bear witness to the emancipation festivities.

The 2011 Emancipation festivities a particularly significant in the context of the declaration of 2011 as ” The Year of People African Descent” by the United Nations. This declaration was made in recognition of the millions of people worldwide, whose ancestors came from the African continent, and especially in recognition of the horrors experienced during the near 400 years of slavery and the continued discrimination and racial abuse faced since. In making this declaration it is the hope that efforts to end discrimination on the of race would be redoubled.

The last half of the 19th century saw the coming in to being of emancipation celebrations akin to those of today. In many of the islands at the time, freedom from the shackles of slavery was celebrated in that first week of August. Many of these celebrations eventually became subsumed by the various Carnivals that emerged then and are still held to this day around this time of the year. An example of this is the Cambulay that was held on August 1 in Trinidad but was suppressed in the famous Riots of 1881. The procession, masking, music, and other performance forms associated with this events eventually becoming incorporated into the pre-lenten Carnival. However, the Carnivals of places such as Barbados, Antigua, and Grenada continue to be hosted during the last week of July and the first of August, close to the August 1st proclamation of freedom.

In 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country to declare a public holiday annually in recognition of this historically significant event in the history of the “people of African descent” and indeed, the history of the world. The acceptance of this holiday by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago came after the ground was laid by the Emancipation Support Committee in the years prior. The committee was then spearheaded by the late Lancelot Layne and included leading members such as, Ella Andell, the late Brian Honore – Commentor, John Cupid, in addition to some of the members that hold the fort today.

The commemorative activities initiated by this early committee included processional visits to historic areas and sites, significant to the experiences of the enslaved and their descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. Some of these included: Lopinot, Aranguez, the Lavantille and Picton Hill area, and the Gonzalez/Belmont community which was a former slave village. Sites of cemeteries for the slaves; trees on which hangings and beating were carried out, were pointed out to participants in these processions, which served an educational function in addition to the celebratory. These emancipation commemorative activities have developed to include an extended Emancipation village in which performances and speeches featuring local and foreign guests (especially from African countries) are delivered, and it culminates with a procession on August 1.

Similar types of celebratory events and activities are hosted in other parts of the Caribbean region. In Jamaica the day is recognized as a national public holiday. An Emancipation Park was opened in Kingston in 2002,
and festivities are held in many different parts of the country. For instance in Spanish Town, St. Catherine there is a reenactment of the reading of the Emancipation Declaration. This town was the seat of Parliament for the colonial government when the abolition of slavery was proclaimed in 1838. Other towns, such as Morant Bay, St. Thomas, host celebrations that feature cultural forms such as mento, and kumina among other cultural activities. In 2011, the community in St. Anns hosts activities that culminate on July 31 with festivities entitled “Let the drums talk”.

In Guyana the occasion of the emancipation anniversary is observed throughout the country and is marked by road and cycle races, the distribution of hampers to the poor and elderly, and essay writing competitions. Additionally, church services are held in some areas and there are performances of dance and song. Groups from neighboring Brazil and Suriname are invited to participate and contribute to the events, particularly in some of the border towns. And, processions are held in which the participants adorn themselves in West African print and march along to the strains of African music.