LEGENDARY Birmingham jazz saxophonist Andy Hamilton has died at the age of 94.
Andy, who arrived in Britain in the first wave of West Indian immigrants in 1949 and was made an MBE in 2008, passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Birmingham historian Professor Carl Chinn last night paid tribute to his great friend, saying: “I am very sad. Andy Hamilton was a most special man.
“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.
“He used to say, ‘There is no colour in music’. He should have been made a Freeman of the City. I think his family are very special.”
Andy was born in Jamaica in 1918 and as a young man worked with the legendary Hollywood actor and playboy Errol Flynn, for whom he composed the jazz calypso tune Silvershine.
After arriving in England, Andy took up lodgings at a house owned by Professor Chinn’s aunt Violet in Trafalgar Road, Moseley, and went on to form his band The Bluenotes.
In his last interview, given to the Birmingham Mail in April, Andy spoke of his struggle in the early days. “It was real tough at times,” he said. “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 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.
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.
Shows followed in St Lucia, 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.
Although he held down regular gigs at Bearwood’s Corks Club and in the Symphony Hall bar, he had to battle for years to get a slot at the Birmingham Jazz Festival.
Andy, whose band featured two of his sons, Graeme and Mark, on trumpet and saxophone respectively, 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 and 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.”
He leaves behind his wife of 61 years, Mary.