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Al Timothy: 1915-2000
Al Timothy
Saxophone, bass, bandleader, songwriter

Born: July 5, 1915 in Radix, Trinidad
Died: December 8, 2000 in London, England

Bebop Saxophonist With an Ear for Pop Hits

Copyright © 2000 

The Scotsman, 2000


Al Timothy was part of the wave of West Indian musicians who brought a new vitality to the London jazz scene in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His robust, hard swinging tenor playing brought him many admirers within the jazz community, while his talent for writing popular hit songs brought his music to a wider audience through artists as diverse as Shirley Bassey, Edmundo Ros, David Essex, and an American known simply as The Charmer, who later turned out to be the man who went on to lead the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan.

While Timothy cashed in on the hits scored by pop artists, notably Shirley Bassey’s version of “Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me”, he never saw a penny for The Charmer’s unlicensed hit with his rather risque calypso “Don’t Touch Me Nylon”.

He was born Albon Timothy in Trinidad, and took up his first instrument, the flute, at the age of eight. His father was a musician and instrument maker, and encouraged his progress, but his mother opposed a musical career, and he became a tailor, opening his own shop at the age of 20.

The lure of music was too strong, however, and Timothy, who now played bass and saxophone, put together his own band, initially for local competitions, and then for a residence at an exclusive club. By the time he joined the exodus to London in 1948, he was well-established on the island, and immediately plunged into the nascent West Indian music scene then growing in the capital.

He accompanied the calypso artist Lord Kitchener, and worked as a featured saxophone soloist with bandleader Cab Kaye, but was also involved in the emerging bebop scene in London. He met the famous American jazz patron and Rothschild heiress, Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, when sharing a bill with pianist Teddy Wilson, and she installed him as the resident bandleader when she opened a modern jazz club in the city.

He co-led the Timwu-Kee Sextet with Singaporean pianist David Wu and trumpeter Shake Keane at the Celebrity restaurant in Mayfair, a venue which became famous, and even hosted a broadcast of BBC radio’s popular Two-Way Family Favourites. Timothy also appeared on British television’s ground-breaking teen music programme, Oh Boy!.

His connection with the Baroness, known to all as Nica, brought him to New York in 1956, where she opened doors to the saxophonist, and introduced him to pianist Thelonious Monk.

His career suffered a decline in subsequent decades, although he continued to work as a saxophonist and bandleader, and as a songwriter. Eventually, he turned to cabaret, touring the working men’s club circuit in England, and playing summer season in resorts. One of his sons, Michael, was featured on piano with his father when only 12, and is now a professional keyboard player who has worked with Boy George, Hugh Masekela, and Massive Attack, among others.

He is survived by his English wife, Joy, and their three sons, Adrian, Nicky and Michael.

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With 6 reader comments, latest December 4, 2009