14 October 2013

A Tribute to Andy Mackintosh by Dan Sheppard

Andy Mackintosh, one of the world's leading session and jazz sax players, passed away peacefully at Sussex County Hospital in Brighton on Sunday October 6. He had a short battle with liver cancer.

    Born in 1953, Andy started playing sax at the age of 4. His father, Ken Mackintosh, was a well-known sax player and bandleader so Andy was constantly surrounded by musicians and music and quickly developed a natural affinity and a musician's ear. His dad wanted him to learn piano, an extremely useful skill for any instrumentalist. He passed all the grades, going beyond eight, but he didn't particularly enjoy it. When the piano player in his dad's band took him aside and showed him what the chord symbols meant on the band's music, it was an epiphany for Andy. He now had the tools to decipher the music he loved – jazz – and was able to apply his new-found knowledge to his sax. His dad took him to a lot of gigs, and eventually let him play piano on some of them. He started asking his son to transcribe popular tunes and arrange them for the band. Andy was also taken to Ronnie Scott's, and plenty of other jazz clubs at a young age, with Ben Webster making a particularly strong impression. As soon as he left school in 1969 he became a professional musician.

    In 1971 he got a big break: he was playing in London with Tommy Whittle's band, and Maynard Ferguson's manager was in the audience. He approached Andy and asked if he would do a gig with Maynard's band in London. It was a stern test – a live broadcast for the BBC, sight reading the music, as an 18-year-old. He passed the test with flying colours and Maynard asked Andy to go to America with the band. Andy said yes, of course, and set off on his stellar career in the USA.

    Shortly after starting the tour with Maynard, he met his bride to be, Bonnie, in Pittsburgh, PA. They got married in 1975 in LA, by which time Maynard had grown close to Andy and Bonnie and gave the bride away.

    Andy left Maynard's band in 1975 and settled in LA, still going out on tours, but now from a permanent base. With Maynard the base was either the band bus or a hotel room but now he had a wife and home  Andy committed to shorter tours. Some of the artists he worked with at this time include:

Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Quincy Jones, Lew Tabackin, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Earth, Wind and Fire, Elvis, Nat Adderley (depping for Cannonball), Supersax, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett…. The list of top-drawer artists goes on and for most of them he was in the lead alto chair. He was also making strides in TV and film music.

    In 1980 Andy and Bonnie made the move to England as Bonnie was pregnant with their son Kenneth, named after Andy's dad. Andy remembers his homecoming this way, "My favourite uncle was sitting reading his newspaper, and we showed up. Remember, this was a Yorkshireman. He knew we were there, but made a show of finishing his article, and eventually looked up for the briefest moment and said, 'All right, Andy lad?' and went back to reading his paper. I loved him for that."

    His uncle hadn't seen Andy for eight years, but he wasn't going to be dishing out any star treatment. Despite being London born-and-bred, Andy had a lot of the Yorkshireman in him, with a strong streak of Northern humour. As he put it, "nobody gets away with anything".

    Kenneth was born on February 13th, 1980, and the family were living in London. Andy was working in the studios, playing on film scores, TV, jingles and West End shows. He was making a good living, and could afford to deputise the shows if a good jazz gig came up. He also got a very long regular gig with the highest paid band on the planet at that time – The James Last Orchestra. He became great friends with Derek Watkins in this band, and the two of them, and their families, became close. Sadly Derek passed away last year, and I remember how sad Andy was about that. He didn't say a lot about it, but he went very quiet for a few weeks and said how he missed him.

    Here are some of the names he worked with during this time: John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, Oasis, The Spice Girls, Elton John, Sting, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, Elaine Page, Andy Williams, The Supremes, The Jack Sharpe Big Band, Stan Tracey, Georgie Fame, Lipslide (as leader), John Dankworth. He also worked on many TV soundtracks, including five Royal Command Performances, Taggart, A Touch of Frost, Bergerac, Wogan, Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper, and many, many more.

    Andy spent the last few years in Brighton in semi-retirement, although he would do a few local pub gigs, the odd wedding or show, and played a lot of duets with local musicians in his flat overlooking Brighton from the 12th floor. He made a lot of new friends in Brighton during this time, being so friendly and full of humour. He was always nice to players of all levels, never looked down on people, hardly mentioned the heights of his career, and was very generous to a lot of folk. He'd let people stay at his place when they were down on their luck, and would never charge a penny when he gave somebody a lesson.

    On a personal note, when Andy was in between places, as he'd split up with Bonnie (though they remained close), Sara Oschlag and I invited him to stay with us. It was a lot of fun (mostly). He was always cooking us meals when we got back from gigs, and mixing the drinks. I said (mostly) because sometimes there'd be a commotion in the kitchen at 5am, and we'd wake up to find him preparing a curry or something, but he really was just being kind, the heart always in the right place. And they were fantastic curries. It's safe to say that I've never met anyone like Andy, so much talent and experience paired with the humble, no-bragging ways. And so funny, and full of fun.

    Although his last few days in the hospital were sad, he didn't stop being silly and entertaining with his many visitors. Bonnie and Ken were there all the time, and many of his former band mates, and friends old and new, came to see him. He caught me looking sad at one moment and told me, using some colourful language, to cheer up or sod off. He stayed feisty too, attempting several times to get up and go for a curry, or trying to get somebody to get a round in. He didn't stop being himself at all. Sara asked him if he had any regrets, and he said, "None. I'd do it all again."

Dan Sheppard


Here is just a small selection from the hundreds of recordings that Andy Mackintosh made in the past forty years:

Al Cohn: Keeper of the Flame

Louie Bellson Big Band: Dynamite!

Louie Bellson: Sunshine Rock

Maynard Ferguson: Chameleon

Stan Kenton: Live at the London Hilton

Amy Winehouse: Back To Black

The Frank Ricotti All Stars: The Beiderbecke Collection (TV Soundtrack)

John Barry: Body Heat OST


See also:

The National Jazz Archive Presents The Story of British Jazz

An interview with Andy Mackintosh by Les Tomkins from 1979.


Brighton Jazz School Podcast – Episode 21

An interview with Andy Mackintosh by Wayne McConnell, from 2012.


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