DERRY JOURNAL Editorial: Gay McIntyre - a musical genius whose legacy will forever be part of Derry’s story

With his saxophone in hand and his fedora hat, in his latter years Gay McIntyre had become the face of and synonymous with the City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival and its success.

By Brendan McDaid
Friday, 29th October 2021, 11:19 am
Gay McIntyre as a young man back in the 50s and in more recent times. (Photos, archive and Hugh Gallagher)
Gay McIntyre as a young man back in the 50s and in more recent times. (Photos, archive and Hugh Gallagher)

But Gay McIntyre was making musical waves long before Derry’s premier music festival - founded by Gerry McColgan and Johnny Murray two decades ago - grew to what it is today .

A Donegal native who made Derry his home base, Gay, in a career spanning over seven decades, played at festivals and events across the globe, often collaborating and featuring alongside some of the biggest names in jazz music.

Over a decade ago the alto saxophonist and clarinettist told former Journal Editor Eamon Sweeney, then writing for the Sentinel, his introduction to Jazz came after a serviceman from the USA who was based in Derry gave a Benny Goodman record to his father Willy as Willy and his band played in the Corinthian Ballroom in Derry during WWII. The record would strike such a chord with the 13-year-old Gay that his parents bought him a clarinet of his own. It proved to be a smart choice. A quick learner, Gay performed in his first professional job four weeks after that in Bundoran and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Johnny McCallum, Gay McIntyre, Bronagh Gallagher, Jackie Molloy and Sean Canning at Derry's Rath M—r Centre in 2007.

Gay would go to start his own band at 16, and brought the Clipper Carlton to Ireland at the height of the showband era. He was invited by none other than Nat King Cole to the US to launch a career there after the global star heard him perform in Belfast. Gay however had other ideas and was happy performing at home.

His achievements were recognised in the Council chamber when he was awarded the honour of having several events in the 2022 Jazz Festival dedicated to him. Alas he will not be there to witness it, but the spirit of this great man and his musical legacy will no doubt live on.

In a city renowned for its musical prowess, Gay McIntyre’s incredible contribution will forever be a part of our culture and our story. R.I.P.