Het is vandaag ook al 45 jaar geleden dat de Jamaicaanse fluitist Harold McNair is gestorven.

Harold McNair was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His early Bahamian recordings were mostly in Caribbean musical styles rather than jazz, in which he sang and played both alto and tenor saxophone. He also played a calypso singer in the 1958 film “Island Women”. In 1960, he went to Miami to record his first album, a mixture of jazz and calypso numbers entitled “Bahama Bash”. It was around this time that he began playing the flute, which would eventually become his signature instrument.
He departed for London later in 1960, where he became a regular gig at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub. His playing drew the admiration of bass player Charles Mingus, who was in London to shoot the 1961 motion picture “All Night Long”. McNair was part of a quartet Mingus formed to rehearse with during his stay in Britain. However, the band never performed in front of a paying audience, due to a ban imposed by the Musicians’ Union on US musicians in British nightclubs. A recording of the band exists, playing the earliest recorded version of the now famous Mingus composition “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”, but it has never been released, despite featuring in the movie itself.
The Musician’s Union ban was lifted in 1961, leading to a residency by US tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scott’s club. Ironically, McNair’s own quartet were also on the bill, resulting in two of his performances appearing on the album made to commemorate the gigs, “Zoot Live at Ronnie Scott’s”.
Voor verdere informatie over zijn eigen jazz-albums verwijs ik u naar Wikipedia, want die platen ken ik eigenlijk niet. His flute was heavily featured on the soundtrack for Ken Loach’s 1969 film “Kes”, with music written by regular McNair collaborator John Cameron. Another notable soundtrack contribution was his tenor saxophone on the original 1962 soundtrack theme from “Dr.No”. His best-known sideman role came via his regular participation (with Cameron) on Donovan’s mid-to-late 1960s recording sessions (e.g. the albums “Sunshine superman”, “Mellow Yellow”, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Barabajagal”, although I’m not sure he can be heard on the actual single hitrecords) and as a member of Donovan’s touring band. McNair arranged the hit single “There Is a Mountain” (1967) and played the flute riff. Donovan’s live album Donovan in Concert features McNair’s flute and tenor extensively and demonstrates some of his finest recorded work. Alhoewel ikzelf als Donovan-fan “There is a mountain” in huis had, heb ik McNair toch pas echt leren kennen op de elpee van Ginger Baker’s Air Force (Polydor, 1970) en ook (al wordt dit niet bevestigd door Wikipedia) op een elpee van Melanie Safka uit die periode. Een jaar later stierf hij echter al aan longkanker. Hij was amper 39 jaar oud.
Hij was ook de solist op de versie van “Whole lotta love” door de groep CCS van Alexis Korner en speelde ook nog op interessante platen als die van Lionel Bart (de componist van de musical “Oliver” en “Living doll”)en van Shadows-drummer Brian Bennett, naast folkplaten van Nick Drake, Magna Carta, Davy Graham en John Martyn. Postuum leverde hij ook nog een bijdrage aan een elpee van Caetano Veloso uit 1972.

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