Obituary: Charlie McNair, 80

Trumpeter Charlie McNair laying down a groove in his heyday
Trumpeter Charlie McNair laying down a groove in his heyday
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Charlie McNair, legendary jazz trumpeter and delicatessen owner, has died aged 80.

Charlie was brought up in Edinburgh and attended the Capital’s Royal High School in the 1940s, a period which saw a worldwide revival of popular 1920s jazz. The school was synonymous with Scotland’s part in the revival, and produced some of Edinburgh’s best jazz musicians, including Charlie.

Whenever he could, he spent time listening to local bands at the Edinburgh Jazz Club on Riego Street, some of which included fellow Royal High schoolboys. He soon managed to get hold of a second-hand trumpet and began making his own way in Edinburgh’s world of jazz.

For the most part, Charlie taught himself to play his chosen instrument, which allowed him to develop and personalise his own sound and style and it wasn’t long before he was in a band, showing Scotland what he was capable of doing.

It was in the mid-1950s that Charlie put his first band together and quickly established a name for himself as a great band leader with charisma. He had an original and rapid wit and a relaxed manner, which made him a natural front man for a band and helped build them a following.

By the end of the 1950s, Charlie had established himself as Master of Ceremonies at Edinburgh’s famous jazz spot, the West End Cafe, in Shandwick Place. There, he exerted his considerable charm on many well-known visiting jazz musicians, inviting them to drop in to play with the local bands, including those led by Bob Craig, George Crockett and Mike Hart. Together these bands formed the heart of the Edinburgh jazz scene and for the next five decades, the Charlie McNair Jazz Band was an active and popular fixture around the Edinburgh and Scottish Jazz scene, with Charlie one of the longest-serving jazz band leaders in the capital.

Their style moved with the times and although it began with Dixieland jazz popularised in New Orleans, he wasn’t afraid to play mainstream or more modern styles, or all of them together. Jazz trumpeter and Scotsman journalist Alastair Clark wrote in 1972: “The band is tough, rumbustious, versatile – capable of leapfrogging the years from trad to groovy, riff-borne rock-and-soul without apparently causing any bewilderment among the audience or themselves.”

He added that Charlie “typifies the eclecticism of the band, blowing in a breezy hotch-potch of styles that somehow manages to accommodate comfortably New Orleans, Dixieland, Mainstream, bop and Blood Sweat and Tears. His singing covers an equally broad area, from Big Bill Broonzy to Frank Sinatra.”

Charlie’s jazz career ended with deteriorating health in the early 2000s.

He died on December 8 and is survived by wife Irene, daughter Nikki, son Callum and his five grandchildren.