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.
Those 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.
Following 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I invite you to share your stories and memories about Andy in the comments below.
Vice President for Academic Affairs / Vice Provost