Meeting Mr. Andrew McGhee
Two weeks ago alto saxophonist and jazz researcher Mario Schneeberger, his wife Christel and me went to the Schloss Wartegg in Rorschacherberg for a CD release party by swiss born pianist Claude Diallo who is a Boston resident now. This afternoon concert was a bonus event to a mini-tour of switzerland that Claude Diallo had organized for legendary tenor saxophonist Andrew “Andy” Mc Ghee (born in 1927). McGhee was a member of Lionel Hamptons’ orchestra from 1958 to 1964. He then played with Woody Herman until 1966 when he joined the faculty of Berklee College of Music, where he still is listed as Professor Emeritus.
The concert itself was in two parts. In the first half Diallo played solo piano first, then he was joined by McGhee. In the second part, Diallo played some duo tunes with singer Nathalie Maerten. At the end they were joined by McGhee again as well as by a young trumpeter whose name unfortunately escaped me.
Mr. McGhee is now 86 years old and of course it shows in his playing. But what he has lost in fluency he makes up with experience. And it is such a rare event to see and hear such a vintage master in action that it was definitely worth the two hour (three in Mario’s case) train ride.
We were mostly interested in talking to Mr. McGhee about John Neely (1930–1994), the rather obscure tenor saxophonist from Chicago who in 1961 was McGhee’s section partner in Hamp’s band. McGhee remembered Neely well and identified him as standing on the very left on the photo below:
(Click to enlarge): Lionel Hampton’s reed section during the 1961
european tour, unidentified location and photographer:
(left to right) John Neely, Ed Pazant, Bobby Plater, Andy McGhee
Lonnie Shaw. Trombonists are Vince Prudente and Haleem Rasheed.
Personnel as identified by Andy McGhee.
Unfortunately we only had ten minutes to play Mr. McGhee some music and talk to him – just between the Hors d’Oeuvre and the main plate – and could not dig very deep. Nonetheless he was ready and willing to talk to us after Mario told him he had last seen him playing in January 1958 in Basel. We talked a little about his early experiences and other musicians from his home turf and then asked some things about Lionel Hampton’s band. What we found out about John Neely in this context will be part of a longer blog posting about this brillant arranger and tenor saxophonist that I have been preparing for quite a while now.
Of course after our intervioew there had to be photo with the giant amongst tall men:
Up until this evening I had known McGhee primarily as a role player in Hampton’s band. You could say that for the time being in that band he was more or less just the man responsible for playing the Illinois Jacquet solo in “Flying Home”. And I have nothing by Woody Herman’s band when McGhee was there.
But in Rorschacherberg I managed to acquire one of the five copies of his CD “Could It Be” (Mags Records 1334), that McGhee had brought along. – and this CD changed my view of McGhee completely. He had recorded this in 1992 with Joe Cohn (g), Boston piano legend Ray Santisi, Marshall Wood (b) and John Ramsay (dr). Mags Records probably was McGhee’s own label founded just for this occasion. The CD – the only one under McGhees name – seems to be unavailable through the usual internet sources – and is not even listed in Tom Lords Jazz Discography.
(Click to enlarge): Andy McGhees CD “Could It Be”, signed by Mr. McGhee
Which truly is a shame! This little forgotten CD to my ears is one of the best “In the Tradition” albums from the early nineties, except that McGhee truly is from that tradition, and not just re-eenacting or imitating it. Listening to this CD is listening to a vintage master –i wish I had at least a dozen albums featuring this man.
I did not ask Mr.Ghee if I could put up some music from that CD upon my blog. But I thought it may be ok to post a little excerpt, which I think will make you want to hear more. And maybe you can manage to get a copy of it, it’ll be worth the search. So here is Andy McGhee’s solo on “Voyage”, a number written by pianist Kenny Barron.