Andy Hamilton 1918–2012

Dave Woodhall pays tribute to a remarkable man.

Birmingham and the world of jazz were today mourning the loss of one of their most respected elder statesmen with the death of Jamaican-born saxophonist Andy Hamilton, who passed away on Sunday at the aged of 94.

Andy was already a well-known musician in his native island before moving to the UK in 1949, making his home in Birmingham. He formed the Blue Notes four years later with fellow Jamaican, pianist Sam Brown, and became a well-known figure on the local jazz scene, playing around the region and latterly performing residencies at the Corks club in Bearwood and at Symphony Hall.

Amazingly, Andy didn’t make a record until 1991, when at the age of 72 he recorded Silvershine, which featured Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall and became the biggest-selling UK jazz album of the year. This was followed two years later by Jazz by Night, recorded live at the St Lucia Jazz Festival, and well into his seventies the overdue recognition of Andy’s talent saw him performing around the world. As his fame spread, so Andy’s contribution to the cultural life of his adopted city was also finally appreciated. Andy received many honours, including an honorary MA from Birmingham University, then in 2008 he was awarded the MBE and made an Honorary Fellow of Birmingham Conservatoire. His 90th birthday celebrations later that year included a sold-out concert at Birmingham Town Hall which featured amongst other Courtney Pine, Sonny Bradshaw and Nana Tsiboe.

Andy’s love of music and of the city where he had settled saw him taking a great part in its education, including the establishment of the Ladywood School of Community Music, based in the area where Andy lived.

The city of Birmingham has given the world many inspirational musicians. Some have achieved greater fame and fortune than Andy Hamilton, but none put as much back into a community which had taken him to their heart.