Lauded jazz saxophonist and bandleader Andy Hamilton has died. He was 94.
Born in Port Maria, Jamaica, in 1918, Hamilton’s music career began at the age of 10, when he and a group of friends formed a band influenced by the sounds of both Jamaican and American jazz bands. The young Hamilton played a saxophone fashioned from bamboo stalks while his friends banged away at a set of oil drums.
As an adult, Hamilton emigrated from Jamaica to the U.S., working odd jobs while moonlighting as the house saxophonist at venues around New York state before returning to the islands to work for 1940s Hollywood film star Errol Flynn, who lived in Jamaica. Hamilton took the role of music manager at The Titchfield, a hotel Flynn owned, and on the actor’s privately-owned yacht.
After once again emigrating from Jamaica in 1949, this time to Birmingham, England, Hamilton formed The Blue Notes with fellow Jamaican jazzman Sam Brown and began promoting gigs across the city. Hamilton soon found a home in Bearwood, establishing The Bearwood Corks Club as The Blue Notes’ home. He remained a regular at the club and at other venues around Birmingham until earlier this year. He also played monthly at Birmingham Symphony Hall.
In 1991, at the age of 72 and five years after recovering from a diabetic coma, Hamilton and World Circuit Records founder Nick Gold recorded the sax man’s debut album, Silvershine, which would go on to become the UK’s top-selling album that year.
Hamilton was highly decorated, having been awarded an honorary Masters of Arts degree by Birmingham University in 1996, receiving a Millennium Fellowship for his work in community education in 1999, and in 2008, at the age of 89, being appointed a Member of the British Empire for his contributions to music in the city.
Though his health had been worsening in recent months, Hamilton was able to muster the strength to play his beloved saxophone at the Bearwood Corks Club one last time at his 94th birthday party this past March 22nd.
Hamilton passed away peacefully early this morning. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and sons, Graeme and Mark.
Watch: Andy Hamilton playing his song “Orocabessa” at the Bearwood Corks Club in 2007