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In Memoriam: Andy McGhee

Dear members of the Berklee community,

Teaching keeps me up to date and around good players. If you’re going to be a teacher and talk about something all day, you gotta be able to do it.

Andy McGheeThose are the words of former longtime Berklee faculty member Andy McGhee, who passed away on October 12 in Atlanta. With Andy’s passing, Berklee lost one of the seminal figures in its development. He would have been 90 years old on November 3.

Starting in 1966, Andy taught at Berklee for 47 years. After 31 years as a full-time faculty member, he first “retired” in 1997, but like many faculty members, continued to teach as a professor emeritus and part-time faculty member for another 16 years, finally deciding to completely retire in 2013. Andy taught private lessons and ensembles during his long tenure at Berklee. His many students included noted saxophonists such as Woodwind Department Chair Bill Pierce, as well as Javon Jackson, Donald Harrison, Walter Beasley, Antonio Hart, Richie Cole, Greg Osby, Jaleel Shaw, and Ralph Moore.

Bill Pierce remembers Andy as a “man of substance and integrity. In his own way, he tried to impart those virtues to those of us who had the privilege to be his students.”

In 1945 at age 17, Andy came to Boston from North Carolina to study at New England Conservatory of Music. This temporarily spared him from serving in the Armed Forces, but a year after his graduation in 1949, he was drafted. He married his wife, Constance, in 1950, and served in the Army in Korea and at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he played in an Army band and gave lessons to other musicians. Andy returned to Boston in 1952 to play with a variety of groups, including trumpeter Roy Eldridge and local Boston musician Fat Man Robinson. From 1957–1963, Andy worked in Lionel Hampton’s band, touring the United States, Europe, and the Far East. His composition, “McGhee,” can be found on the recording, The Many Sides of Hamp.

Andy McGhee SextetFollowing the stint with Hampton, Andy worked with Woody Herman from 1963 to 1966. In Jim Sullivan’s profile of McGhee for Berklee Today’s spring 2006 issue, Andy recounted that “Woody Herman heard him play eight bars and decided to bring him into his band. He did not consider race an issue, which unfortunately it often was back then. Herman, in fact, told [Andy] (the only African-American in his band at the time) that if he encountered any racial issues when they were on the road, he should bring them to his attention. There were only two times it happened, and Herman dealt promptly with the issues on both occasions.”

In the interview for that same article, Andy produced a telegram from 1966 asking him to call a number in New York about his availability for the Count Basie Orchestra. When the offer for the prestigious road gig with Basie came in, Andy had already started teaching at Berklee and elected to stay put. “Biggest decision of his life? ‘Oh, yeah,’ said [Andy], clad in his trademark sweater on this cold January day. ‘I had a family, two daughters, and a wife. These were terrible times with the busing in Boston. My family lived in West Roxbury, and it was time for me to stay home.'”

When Andy arrived at Berklee in 1966, he was part of a small and prestigious group of horn players-turned-teachers, sometimes teaching 35 hours a week. Jim Sullivan wrote in the Berklee Today article that “[Andy] praised Berklee founder Larry Berk as ‘someone who cared for you as a musician and as a human being.’ He recalls Berk asking him if he rented his house and advising him to buy rather than throw money out the window. ‘Larry was a good businessperson who had a passion for music. He was interested in ways I could make some money.’ Berk also encouraged [Andy] to write educational books.'” So, that’s what he did. While maintaining his teaching schedule, Andy wrote the instruction books, Improvisation for Saxophone: The Scale/Mode Approach, Improvisation for Flute: The Scale/Mode Approach, and Modal Studies for Saxophone. And though music remained the main interest for Andy, he was widely known to thoroughly enjoy playing golf.

The highlight of Andy’s non-teaching career may well be the Golden Men of Jazz tour he did with Hampton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, Benny Bailey, Al Grey, and Benny Golson in the early 1990s. The Golden Men of Jazz played concerts throughout Europe and on returning to the United States played for President George H. W. Bush in Washington, D.C. Andy recalled in the Berklee Today article, “it was mellow, relaxed, no headaches. We flew first class, and we made some money.”

In May 2006, Andy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee and in commemoration of Andy’s’s long and dedicated service to the college and the impact he has had on his students through the years, the Andy McGhee Endowed Scholarship was established. Anyone interested in making a memorial gift to the fund can give online, or contact Jo Craig, gift entry and stewardship coordinator, at 617-747-2236 or jcraig1@berklee.edu.

I invite you to share your stories and memories about Andy in the comments below.

Sincerely,

Jay Kennedy
Vice President for Academic Affairs / Vice Provost
Berklee

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7 Comments

  1. Elan

    RIP brother. Thanks for the semester of private lessons. I still use that Coltrane transcription and think of you every time I play it! Elan

  2. David Weigert

    I’ll never forget hearing Andy play “On the Trail” at New England Life Hall in a 1970 Berklee concert. What a beautiful saxophone sound and feel.

  3. John Butler

    As a First semester student at Berklee in 1967. I had a class with Andy Mcghee.
    One of the first thing that Andy Taught us was how to swing a quarter note.
    Knowing how to swing a quarter note quickly became a statement that we Freshman
    would frequently say to one another.
    Thank you Andy
    John, Jack Butler class of 1971

  4. Elizabeth Crabtree

    Andy McGhee was one of my favorite professors. I only had him for private lessons, but he was always, kind, fair and truly ignited my love of all things Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon. It was hard being one of the lone female saxophone players at Berklee in the 1980s, but Andy always made me feel at ease with his coaching style and winning smile. Thanks, for the eoncouragement and memories, Andy. You will be missed.

  5. Don Nelson

    I am saddened to learn of Andy’s death. Saddened, yet I know my life (not just my saxophone playing) was thoroughly enriched by having studied with him for several years. My only regret is that I never wrote to thank him for being one of my most inspirational teachers. I’m not a name Andy would have remembered, but there must be more than a thousand students just like me who were assigned to his studio, and then felt like he took a personal interest in developing us into the best musician he could make us, and along the way taught us to have high standards, yet to be patient, to treat one another with kindness and respect, and to prepare and present ourselves with a certain professionalism that was an expectation in lessons with him. I haven’t seen him since I left Berklee in spring of ’73, but today I miss him. RIP Andy!

  6. John Herr

    I would like to buy a copy of Andy McGhee’s self-produced ’92 CD Could It Be (pictured above). It has never been available on Amazon or eBay, not even as a used item from a 2ndary seller. A few years ago, I exchanged email with Heidi James, Proj Asst for Academic Affairs at Berklee, who provided me with an address on Boylston St & a telephone number for the prof emeritus, but the phone rang unanswered, & there was no response to a postcard I sent. Tonight I emailed Jo Craig, listed above as coordinator for the memorial scholarship fund, to see if there were family, perhaps in Atlanta, who might have charge of any remaining copies of the CD. I even emailed one of Prof McGhee’s distinguished students listed above. I would appreciate any assistance readers of this blog could offer for my quest.

  7. Frank Benvenuto

    I first met Andy when I was a student at Berklee. He had just gotten off the road with Woody Herman and Phil Wilson asked Andy to play in one of his rehearsal bands. Andy didn’t have his tenor or mouthpiece with him so I offered my tenor with a Link #6 mouthpiece. Andy played a much more opened Link than mine but that didn’t stop him from playing my horn. He sounded incredible and what a very nice man. RIP Andy, you were a classy, nice, and very talented man. Your music will live on forever.

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