Andy Hamilton, musical director to Errol Flynn on his yacht in the Caribbean and the great grandfather of jazz in Birmingham, England, has died at the age of 94. He was awarded the MBE for his services to music in Birmingham, and celebrated by the city on his 90th birthday with a grand party in Birmingham Town Hall.
He had been “not so well, you know” for some time, as Bearwood Jazz website quoted him, but he had appeared with his band, the Blue Notes, at their home, Bearwood Corks Club, as recently as his 94th birthday celebration in March.
Here is a full obituary from his record company, World Circuit:
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.
His biography as it appears on the Bearwood Jazz site is here.