Andy Hamilton: Saxophonist, composer and bandleader who found fame late in his career

 

Andy Hamilton was a Jamaican-born tenor saxophonist, bandleader and composer who, after emigrating to the UK in 1949, became a key player on the Midlands jazz scene and an important member of the West Indian community there.

He was renowned for his smooth, mellow style, but did not make his first album until 1991, when he was 72. Silvershine, the first of two fine recordings for the World Circuit label, came about in serendipitous fashion. In 1988 Hamilton celebrated his 70th birthday at his regular venue and the jazz writer Val Wilmer reviewed the gig for The Independent. In response, The Soho Jazz Festival invited him to perform, which triggered him being signed.

World Circuit founder Nick Gold saw the show and was impressed: "He had this wonderful, unique sound... It was very woody, and it had a weird sort of rubbery elasticity to it. Especially when he was playing his calypso stuff, the way he messed about with rhythm. He seemed to be hugely competent, or confident over the rhythm, so he could sort of hold back on it or dive in and out. And as a ballad player, he was almost as good as you could get." Hamilton himself said: "Play sweet and you can baptise anybody. Wild animals included. Play rough and you don't baptise no one," on the sleevenotes for his second album, Jamaica By Night (1994).

The title track of Silvershine was a lilting calypso-jazz Hamilton had written in 1947 while working as a bandleader and arranger for the Hollywood star Errol Flynn, on board Flynn's yacht The Zaca. Silvershine was also the name of the first band Hamilton formed. The roster of guests on the record shows the great kudos and goodwill Hamilton amassed; David Murray, Mark Mondesir, Andy Sheppard, Jean Toussaint, Orphy Robinson and Steve Williamson all contribute, and Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall croons through You Are Too Beautiful. Silvershine became the biggest-selling UK jazz album of the year, The Times Jazz Album of the Year and one of the Sony 50 International Albums of the Year.

The follow-up, Jamaica By Night, continued in a similar vein, with a mix of original material and standards, but it was more upbeat, with a dash of African-style guitar on "Give Me the Highlife", reggae on "Mango Time" and plenty of Latin-flavoured piano from the late Portuguese player Bernardo Sassetti. Hamilton's sons Graeme (trumpet) and Mark (tenor sax) also featured.

Hamilton's first exposure to music was through attending church, and at home on the family piano. He also listened keenly to the songs sung by local fishermen. At the age of 10, he began playing a sax made out of bamboo stalks. He formed his first band with a group of friends in 1928, and they played all around Jamaica. After this early success, Hamilton left Jamaica in 1944, for a 15-month spell in the US. In Buffalo, he gigged at the Moonshine Club.

In 1946, he returned from the US and took up a residency at the Titchfield Hotel in Port Antonio, an upmarket venue owned by Errol Flynn. Flynn heard Hamilton play there which led to the job aboard his yacht, which lasted for two years. After this, Hamilton again got itchy feet and took a boat to Southampton, settling in 1949 in Birmingham, where he found a job. At first, he found it tough getting even guest spots on the jazz scene there, encountering veiled racism as well as violence, once getting his front teeth knocked out by some Mosleyite fascists at a gig.

"It was real tough at times, some places would not let us in and some times there was trouble, but most people were friendly", he told his manager and colleague Alan Cross in a recent unpublished interview. "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 and I went home real sad and decided that the best thing to do was to organise my own band and find places to play."

So in the early 1950s he established his first UK band, The Blue Notes (with compatriot Sam Brown on piano), as well as setting up the Bearwood Corks Club, which would attract prominent jazz musicians from around the world. He also began teaching local musicians, which he would continue to do for the rest of his life. His work with local youth bore fruit with two young big bands, The Blue Pearls in the 1980s and more recently The Notebenders. Hamilton also sometimes worked in factories to get by, although he disliked the noise, dirt and the damage it did to his hands.

The acclaim generated by Silvershine set Hamilton off travelling again, and led to him performing in St Lucia, Jamaica, Paris, Milan and for Womad. In 2006, he headlined at the Cape Town Jazz Festival, and in 2007 performed with the Buena Vista Social Club. In 2009 he played alongside his old friend David Murray, The Roots and Ornette Coleman at the Royal Festival Hall's Meltdown Festival.

Alan Cross recalled his old friend as someone whose "love of music andpeople was the defining philosophy of his life. His enthusiasm, generosity, wisdom, understanding and love endeared him to everyone he came into contact with."

In 2008 he was appointed MBE. Hamilton's last performance was at his club in March on his 94th birthday, when he shared the stage with his band, his son Mark, and Soweto Kinch, whom he had encouraged and supported from early on in his career.

Jon Lusk

Andrew Raphael Thomas Hamilton, musician: born Port Maria, Jamaica 26 March 1918; MBE 2008; married Mary (eight children); (five other children); died Birmingham 4 June 2012.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn