Harold McNair Died aged thirty-nine from Lung cancer on 7th March 1971 in
Maida Vale, London, United Kingdom. Harold was born in 1931 in Kingston, Jamaica. He spent the first ten years of his musical career in The Bahamas, where he used the name "Little G" for both recordings and live performances. 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 visited 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. Initially Harold took some lessons in New York, U.S.A. but he was largely self-taught. Like many other Caribbean jazz musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, Harold McNair moved to Britain but before arriving in London, he toured Europe with Quincy Jones and worked on film and TV scores in Paris. Once in London, he quickly gained a reputation as a formidable player on flute, alto and tenor saxophone, leading to a regular gig at Ronnie Scott's nightclub in Soho. Harold's playing drew the admiration of bass player Charles Mingus and Harold became part of a quartet Charles Mingus formed to rehearse with during his stay in Britain. A recording of the band exists, playing the earliest recorded version of the Mingus composition "Peggy's Blue Skylight", but it has never been released, despite featuring in the movie itself. Harold McNair's own quartet were on the bill, resulting in two of his performances appearing on the album made to commemorate the gigs, Zoot Live at Ronnie Scott's, with Phil Seamen on drums. Around the same time, Harold also recorded with the drummer Tony Crombie and the percussionist Jack Costanzo. Harold McNair briefly visited The Bahamas, where he cut his first all-jazz album, 'Up in the Air with Harold Harold McNair', before settling back in London permanently. His first UK album as a leader, 'Affectionate Fink', was made for the fledgling Island Records in 1965. The session saw him team up with Ornette Coleman's then current rhythm section of David Izenzon (bass) and Charles Moffett (drums), for a set of standards played with hard swinging intensity. Harold McNair equally featured his tenor sax and flute on this session, delivering virtuoso performances on both. His next (self-titled) album, cut for RCA in 1968, recorded at the recently opened Trident Studios was another classic and featured probably his most famous composition, "The Hipster", which has become a perennial fixture on the playlists at jazz clubs and was included on Gilles Peterson's recent Impressed Vol. 2 compilation of 1960s British jazz.
His next album was Flute and Nut in 1970, which featured big band and string arrangements by John Cameron. This was quickly followed up in the same year by The Fence, which moved in the direction of jazz fusion. Another self-titled album was issued posthumously in 1972 by the B&C label, which mixed tracks from the 1968 RCA album with later, unreleased recordings. Recordings as a jazz sideman included sessions with the jazz-rock/big band ensemble Ginger Baker's Air Force and John Cameron's Off Centre. He also recorded with visiting Americans including vocalists Jon Hendricks and Blossom Dearie, drummer Philly Joe Jones and saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.