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

Jazz Artists on the Greens, 2012

In the following article Trinidad Express columnist Wayne Bowman reports of the recently concluded 2012 Jazz Artists on the Greens.

The sight of patrons wining, jumping and waving bandanas gave the impression they were at a Carnival fete when they were, in fact, enjoying the music of Clifford Charles and Friends at the 2012 Jazz Artists on the Greens (JAOTG).

The tenth edition of the concert took place on March 24 at the WASA Grounds, St Joseph, and featured several local jazz acts alongside artistes from abroad. The event was introduced in 2003 by Production One Ltd, which comprises several jazz enthusiasts who believed there was the need for a platform for homegrown jazz musicians.

Back to the rag-waving patrons and Charles, who is an accomplished guitarist, known for interpreting soca hits in the language of jazz in a most unique manner. Charles took “Bacchanalist” by Kerwin Dubios and gave it an alternative identity that was much appreciated by the patrons. Some abandoned their seats and came nearer the stage to dance as Charles and his fellow musicians jammed.

Charles and company opened their set with “Strolling”, an original song from Charles’ debut CD collection from a few years back. The first people to leave their seats and approach the stage did so as the band began to play “That Girl” by Stevie Wonder.

The patrons danced happily as Charles and the other musicians, David Richards (drums), Sean Friday (bass), Rodney Harris (keyboards) and Deryck Cadogan (keyboards), played around with the song’s melodic and rhythmic structure, improvising and delivering exciting solos.

We should note here that JAOTG is a laid-back event that affords patrons the opportunity to either sit in the chairs provided or spread blankets on the ground. There is always a variety of food available, but some people walk with small coolers with wine and other drinks, along with light snacks such as cheeses and other finger foods to nibble as they take in the show. Another element of JAOTG is the socialising among patrons and the musicians being featured, as well as those who come out to support their peers.

So as Charles continued his impressive performance, the band then did a few songs from his new CD collection, Songs From Deep Within. They performed the title track, followed by “Bounce”, punctuating that with the jazz classic “Take Five”. Near the end of the set, they played a jazz interpretation of “Dance With You” by Machel Montano, which is the song that initiated the abandoning of seats, and “Bacchanalist” kept them coming.

The act that really had the audience mesmerised was Michele Henderson, the songbird from Dominica, who has been a Goodwill Ambassador for her island since 2004. Accompanied by Michael “Ming” Low Chew Tung, along with Dean Williams (guitar), Kevon La Fleur (bass), Modupe Onilu (percussion) and Richard Joseph (drums), Henderson had the audience cheering at intervals throughout her performance.

She opened with “Agua De Beber”, in which Onilu and Williams traded solos that impressed even Henderson, who grooved to the music just as much as the audience. Actually, throughout her set, Henderson’s passion for music was clearly evident as she imbibed everything around her on the stage. This, of course, made for a fantastic performance that we are sure the patrons will speak of for some time to come.

In the song “Misty”, Henderson played a captivating flute solo as the intro, with Low Chew Tung adding in a smooth solo on keyboard. Williams delivered a lively guitar solo when Henderson sang “My Favourite Things”, popularised in the classic movie Sound Of Music. Henderson had people dancing when she opened “Waiting In Vain” with another intoxicating flute solo, then giving way for Williams to again work his magic on the guitar.

As Henderson exited the stage, the audience demanded more, and they were treated to a few additional minutes as she brought the house down with “Do I Do”. Her session also included “Fow Daw Leve”, “Pani Pawol”, “500 Miles High”, “I Am Changing”, “Spain” and “Armando’s Rhumba”.

JAOTG 10 also featured performances by pannist Annise Hadeed, who was supported by Theron Shaw (guitar), Douglas Reddon (bass) and Richard Bailey (drums). Opening was Carlton “Zanda” Alexander and the Coalpot Band and multi-faceted vocalist Llettesha Sylvester.

For the original post: Joyful Jazz | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Sunday Mix.

“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.”

The following article was posted by Michael Eldridge on August 14, 2011 on the site, Working for the Yankee Dollar.

MacBeth the Great (Patrick MacDonald), probably at Renaissance Ballroom, July 1947 | From the William P. Gottlieb Collection of Jazz Photos, Library of Congress

I keep coming across bits of trivia I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled upon before.  I already knew, thanks in part to Garl Jefferson, something of how calypso shared fans and venues with bebop in late 1940s Harlem.  Turns out they even shared bills.  Here’s a lovely anecdote from a famous piece previously unbeknownst to me, Paul Bacon’s “The High Priest of Bebop: The Inimitable Mr. Monk” (published originally in The Record Changer in 1949, it was reprinted in Rob Van der Bliek’s Thelonious Monk Reader):

There is, in Harlem, a monstrous barn of a dance-hall called the “Golden Gate”; quite a number of affairs are produced there every year, and the usual system is to have two alternating bands working–in the last few years the two bands have been one bop group and one Calypso band.  (There are a couple of remarkable calypso bands in New York, playing a real powerhouse music which is closer to Harlem in 1928 than Trinidad in any year.) The occasion I’m thinking of took place there in 1947…Macbeth’s calypso contingent shared the stand with a bop sextet fronted by Monk; the boppers were second in line, so, after a long set by Macbeth, Monk’s band wandered desultorily to the stand.

Monk fussed with the piano, discovering that it was a pretty venerable instrument…Close examination showed him that the pedal post was shakily attached; he jiggled the whole piano apprehensively, then shrugged his shoulders and concentrated on some music left behind by Macbeth’s pianist.

A little later I became aware that Thelonious was doing something extraordinary…as I watched, mesmerised, I saw that he was yanking at the pedal post with all his might (first he kept up with the band by reaching up with his right hand to strike an occasional chord, but he had to apply himself to the attack on the post with both hands, and get his back into it, too). There was a slight crack, a ripping sound, and off came the whole works, to be flung aside as Monk calmly resumed playing.  He never looked at it again, but when Macbeth’s man came back on the stand he stopped short, stunned.  It was obvious that here was a new experience, something outside the ken of a rational man; for the rest of the evening he looked upon Thelonious with a new respect.

(Bacon, the designer of dozens of classic albums for Blue Note and Riverside in the 1950s and one of Monk’s early journalistic champions–jazz nerd and Down Beat writer/photograph Bill Gottlieb was another–was interviewed at length last year by Marc Myers for his blog JazzWax.)

Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, ca. September 1947 | From the William P. Gottlieb Collection of Jazz Photos, Library of Congress

So Monk’s Caribbean connection wasn’t just second-hand.  He grew up in San Juan Hill, an African-American neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side with a heavy West Indian presence.  As Robin D. G. Kelley tells it in his magisterial biography of Monk, “With the music, cuisine, dialects, and manners of the Caribbean and the American South everywhere in [San Juan Hill], virtually every kid became a kind of cultural hybrid,” and on the radio, at block parties, and through his neighbors’ victrolas, Monk inevitably “absorbed Caribbean music” (23).  His drummer Denzil Best, co-composer of the calypso-inflected “Bemsha Swing,” was the child of Bajan parents.  (“Bimsha” is a phonetic approximation of “Bimshire,” one of Barbados’ nicknames.)   His admirer and sometime student Randy Weston recorded “Fire Down There,” a/k/a “St. Thomas,” almost a year before Sonny Rollins did.  (In fact, Weston once told Rhashidah McNeill that his waltz “Little Niles,” composed in honor of his young son, was inspired by a “swinging quadrille” played for him by MacBeth.)  And while Monk’s go-to bassist and Weston’s childhood friend Ahmed Abdul-Malik, better known for his shared love (with Weston) of North African music, liked to tell people that his father was Sudanese, Robin Kelley claims that Abdul-Malik’s given name was Jonathan Timm and that both his parents were from St. Vincent.  (The bassist covered “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” a road march claimed by Lord Invader but associated with the Duke of Iron and Virgin Islands carnival, on his 1961 album The Sounds of Ahmed Abdul-Malik–again, a year ahead of Rollins.)  I’ve heard it rumored, moreover, that Abdul-Malik played for a time in MacBeth’s band.

MacBeth the Great, “Calypso Holiday” (Time Records S2144, 1961)

As for MacBeth himself: born Patrick MacDonald in Trinidad, he made his first big mark as a performer singing with Gerald Clark’s band at the Village Vanguard in 1940. The stylistic contrast between MacBeth and one of the other featured singers, Sir Lancelot, was marked; as the Afro-American saw it, MacBeth “[stole] the show.” Short in stature, he nevertheless cut quite a figure: “Gayly dressed in red satin trousers, black loosely-belted tunic, casually draped black and green turban, the ends of which fall over his right shoulder, he sings the clever, clever words of the songs, shaking maracas.”[1] MacBeth recorded one tune, “I Love to Read Magazines,” with Clark for Varsity before the war, then more sides for Guild/Musicraft in 1945, Asch/Disc in 1946, Jade around 1949, and Monogram in the early 1950s. He participated in the famous “Calypso at Midnight” concert at New York’s Town Hall in 1946 and subsequently organized his own twelve-piece orchestra. (“Macbeth’s Calypso Band” also appeared on screen with Lord Invader in the “Pigmeat” Markham vehicle House-Rent Party that same year.)  Besides playing in New York, where for many years he took part in Carnival balls in Harlem, Macbeth also performed up and down the East Coast. According to one account, his band was in such demand that it sometimes had to be “split into two groups in order to fulfill engagements which were scheduled on the same night.”  After his death, the sides that MacBeth had done for Bob Shad‘s Jade label were collected on a 1964 album called Calypso Holiday, released by the legendary producer, jazz fan, and A & R man’s latest venture, Time Records.  (Time was superseded by Mainstream, which was eventually acquired by Sony Legacy, who may be behind a recent digital reissue of MacBeth’s Jade sides–along with scores of other Mainstream titles.)  MacBeth’s son Ralph MacDonald, an accomplished percussionist and sometime arranger for Harry Belafonte in the early 1960s, got his start in his father’s band.

Though it was Wilmoth Houdini who crowned himself “King” of the New York calypsonians, in July 1947 Houdini, the Duke of Iron, Lord Invader, and MacBeth the Great, along with “dark horse” the Count of Monte Cristo (the Duke’s brother), staged a monarchy competition at Harlem’s storied Renaissance Ballroom and Casino to determine “the undisputed right to the title of Calypso King.”  (I suspect that’s where William Gottlieb’s “Portrait of Calypso” shots were captured.)  I don’t know which of the rivals prevailed, or whether his victory was ever in fact disputed.  But of course MacBeth’s kingly stature was implicit all along.


[1] “New Kind of Singing: Calypso has Four Parts.” Afro-American  22 June 1940: 13

For original article: “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.” « Working for the Yankee Dollar.

Reimagining Jazz in Africa.

It’s no secret that the distant roots of American jazz lay in Africa. But how did Afro-America’s revolutionary sound reshape African music? On this Hip Deep edition, we examine how African artists found a modern, global voice using jazz as inspiration. Author Carol Muller tells the story of Abdullah Ibrahim, whose prolific career was launched with “Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio” followed by “Anatomy of a South African Village Suite.” We dig into the political significance of the U.S. State Department tours of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and how their visit to Africa underscored the greater fight for social justice for blacks around the world. Senegalese music scholar Timothy Mangin explains West Africa’s attraction to American big band music. Finally, jazz and African music scholar Ingrid Monson tells the story of jazz in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and how this American tradition sculpted the sounds of such luminaries as Mulatu Astatke and Fela Kuti.

Reimagining Jazz in Africa: Cape Town Cosmopolitans and Beyond by Afropop Worldwide