Derry jazz legend Gay McIntyre has passed away

Tributes have been paid to the legendary jazz musician Gay McIntyre who has sadly passed away aged 88 at his home in Derry.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:34 pm
The legendary Gay McIntyre who has sadly died.
The legendary Gay McIntyre who has sadly died.

The talented multi-instrumentalist was acclaimed across Ireland, the UK and Europe as a jazz saxophonist and clarinetist of the first order.

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Graham Warke, said: "Gay was an immense talent who played with some of the greatest names in jazz including Nat King Cole and Acker Bilk. He loved to share his stories and his talent, and I think it was that sheer passion for the music itself, not the fame associated with it, which made him such a likeable and relatable person.

"He was a legend in his own right, and we are so lucky to have such a long association with him through the City of Derry Jazz Festival over the decades. He shared his talents all over the world, but he loved his home here in Derry and sharing his music with local people most of all.

"At a time when jazz wasn't widely accessible Gay brought the music to new audiences and he will now doubt continue to inspire new generations. I am delighted that plans are already in place to honour Gay at next year's festival, which he has been an integral part of for so many years.

"I had the real pleasure of meeting Gay at his home with his family recently, and I want to extend my deepest condolences today to all who knew and loved him. His memory will live on in the music – it was his gift to the people of Derry."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said: “I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Gay McIntyre and know that sentiment will be shared across Derry and on both sides of the border. His musical talents were synonymous with our city and the thousands of performances he gave over the years will live long in the memory of local people.

“Gay was also a fantastic ambassador for this area, he toured the world and played with some of the biggest names in Jazz music, but never forgot his roots or his home in Derry. Our city’s Jazz Festival, at which Gay was a regular performer, will continue on as a testament to his memory and the musical influence he had on Derry.”

Gay in the 1950s.

Sinn Féin MLA Ciara Ferguson said: “I was saddened to hear of the death of local musician, Gay McIntyre.

“It's quite staggering to know that his music career spanned over seven decades, working with many of the greats in the jazz scene.

“He last left a lasting legacy in Derry and will rightly be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest jazz musicians.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family, friends and loved ones at this sad time.”

Ex-Derry councillor Mary Durkan said: "Very sorry to hear that Derry jazz legend Gay McIntyre has died."

Former Derry Journal reporter Martin Cowley commented: "Jazzman of international repute and quality, he remained rooted in Derry dazzling audiences and making music magic 'in good times and bad'. To the end, a trouper and a greatly respected Derryman."

Broadcaster Gerry Kelly said: "Just heard the sad news that the legendary Gay McIntyre has died. One of the finest musicians this island has ever produced and a real gentleman. RIP Gay."

The sad news of Gay's death comes just weeks after Council agreed a number of new initiatives to recognize and honour the acclaimed jazz musician's contribution to music.

Gay is widely regarded as one of the finest jazz musicians Ireland has ever produced. Fans have included Nat King Cole, Humphrey Lyttleton, Kenny Ball, Louis Stewart, Chris Barber and Acker Bilk.

He was introduced to jazz through his father Willy a well known bandsman who was given a Benny Goodman record by a US serviceman while playing the Corinthian Ballroom during World War Two.

As Gay would later recall: “My mother wound up the gramophone. I hadn’t heard four bars of the music before there were tears in my eyes. My mother said to my father, ‘whatever instrument that is, we have to get him one of them.’

"It was a clarinet. My father earned 27 shillings a week. It took them two years to pay the £15 to get the instrument. My father handed it to me and said, ‘this is a clarinet and this is for the rest of your life.’

"He must have seen that there was dedication in me early on. From then on I couldn’t get enough money to go to the Strand Road to buy records and copy the music. I couldn’t have done it without those records."

His first professional job was playing with John Foley and McNamara’s Band in Bundoran when he was just 14 years old.

At the ripe old age of 16 he started his own band and was a fixture at the Memorial Hall. He toured Ireland extensively and played for a time with the legendary Clipper Carlton showband.

At a gig in Belfast’s Grand Opera House Nat King Cole was so impressed by Gay's playing that he offered him the chance to travel to America and said he would put him in touch with his people in order to further his career.

“First of all I didn’t want to fly. But, I wasn’t very keen anyway. All I wanted was to have my own spot to play music. I had no great desire to be anywhere," was how Gay remembered it.

Gay did eventually make it to New York but didn't hear as much jazz as he would have liked.

He visited the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village and another club on 42nd Street where all the the top jazz players of the day performed.

He recalled: "There was probably more jazz in Ireland at that time."

Such was his talent that Gay was approached by both RTÉ and BBC NI and played with both broadcasters' orchestras.

While renowned within jazz circles he was solidly anchored in his home town of Derry.

He held local musicians such as Mick Williams, John Trotter, Joe Quigley and Jackie Molloy in the highest regard, considering them to be world class.

Gay spent decades music at schools across the old Western Education and Library Board (WELB).

Gay was an exceptional sax and clarinet player, who entertained audiences across the world for over 70 years, playing with some of the greatest talents in the industry. Over the years he had a long affiliation with the City of Derry Jazz Festival, always making time to play to his beloved Derry audiences.

During the 2022 Jazz Festival, the outdoor stage in Guildhall Square will be named the Gay McIntyre Stage and the opening event of the 2022 festival on Thursday April 28th will be known as the Gay McIntyre and Local Legends of Jazz.

The Cross Community School Woodwind and Brass Master Classes hosted by the Heavy Beat Brass Band in previous years, will now be known as 'The Gay McIntyre Woodwind and Brass Master Class Series' focusing on saxophone skills and skills on other woodwind and brass instruments.