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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Jamaica Swing Excerpt #3

Harold 'Little G' McNair and Wilton 'Bogey' Gaynair
By Michael Edwards Observer writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004

In a previous instalment of the jazz giants, we examined the life and times of alto sax player Joe Harriott. Several of Harriott's contemporaries also made a significant impact on the British jazz scene of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Among them was Harriott's friend, tenor saxophonist Harold McNair, who like Harriott, was heavily influenced by Charlie as well as by Sonny Rollins. In addition to the Saxes, McNair also played a mean flute.
Almost immediately on his arrival, McNair's formidable talents allowed him to prise open the often impervious circle associated with London jazz legend Ronnie Scott's club. He became a resident artiste, offering his unique blend of Caribbean lyricism and bebop. He made his on-record debut in late 1961 with drummer Tony Crombie's quintet on the innocuous album Whole Lotta Tony.

A couple years after that, he got his big break, working alongside the chart-topping folk-pop singer-songwriter Donovan. Affectionate Fink, made for Chris Blackwell's Island label, featured McNair alongside pianist Alan Branscombe as well as bassist David Izenson and drummer Charles Moffett, the latter two having established themselves as the rhythm section for free jazz legend Ornette Coleman. Writing in the book Yellow Birds, West Indian musicians in London in the 1950s and 60s, Simon Spillett comments that McNair on this recording ".conveys an irrepressible urgency and drive which seems unstoppable, whilst his flute work, whether indulging in Roland Kirk - like antics or simply singing a lyrical ballad, is amongst the finest upon that instrument anywhere in jazz."

McNair followed that up with an eponymously titled album for the RCA label, in 1968, teaming this time with pianist Bill LeSage. The album included his take on Lord Of The Reedy River, a Donovan original, in homage to his one-time boss.

Sadly McNair had little time left in which to further his career. Diagnosed with cancer in 1971, he was unable, even with surgery to halt the advance of the disease. His death, at the tragically young age of 39 (like Wynton Kelly), shocked the London jazz community at the time, particularly Harriott, who was to follow him to the grave just about two years later.
Another saxophonist associated with Harriott's and McNair's formative days, both as part of the Alpha Boys Band, and thereafter with the Jamaica All Stars (the latter combo also included Ocho Rios Jazz founder Sonny Bradshaw), was the tenor - man Wilton "Bogey" Gaynair.

Possessed of a robust, commanding tone, Gaynair's tenor style was a sidelong look at hard bop, akin more to the relaxed approach of Harold Land than the histrionics of Johnny Griffin. Blue Bogey, the record he made in 1959 for Tony Hall's Tempo label (which also featured trumpeter Dizzy Reece), is a fascinating mix of the up-tight drive of Tubby Hayes' rhythm section - and Gaynair's generally less frenetic style.

His recorded output as a leader was essentially curtailed at this point, as he opted for the path of least resistance and settled for a comfortable living as a 'sessions' sideman in Germany. A stroke left him unable to play and at the time of his death a few years later, he was -and is - still largely remembered for Blue Bogey.

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