Hal Singer 1919 – 2020: Warm Memories Of A Visit to Birmingham

hal singerHal Singer came to Birmingham in 2006 to play with Andy Hamilton and David Murray, and I retain a warm memory of that visit.

It came about as a result of the long friendship between Birmingham’s Andy Hamilton and the American saxophonist David Murray.  David got to know Andy when he was playing in Birmingham with his Octet and they became good friends, see Dudley-Evans (2017).  Whenever I saw David at festivals, he would always ask after Andy, and then on one occasion he mentioned that he had been playing with Hal in Paris and that Hal reminded him of Andy.

David Murray, Andy Hamilton and Hal Singer
Andy Hamilton, David Murray and Hal Singer at Corks. 29th September 2006.

I immediately resolved to set up a meeting between the three and after some complications with David’s commitments we managed to set up two dates, the first on 29th September at Corks Club, Andy’s regular venue, and the second the following day at the CBSO Centre.  At that time David was based in Paris where Hal had settled down and married Arlette.

Hal Singer was born in Tulsa in 1919, and started his career in territory big bands, including the Jay McShann Band, and I wonder if he was in the band at the same time as Charlie Parker.  He moved to New York in 1943, and in the late 1940s joined the Duke Ellington Band.  Shortly after that he had some success with his Corn Bread track that went to the top of the R&B chart in 1948.  He toured the R&B circuit for many years, but subsequently came back to jazz playing in small group mainstream groups.  He had a strong tone on the tenor saxophone and style similar to that of the ‘tough’ tenor saxophonists.

The visit to Birmingham and the bringing together of the three saxophonists was a great success.  They played with Andy’s Blue Notes at Corks and then at the CBSO Centre we added bass player Larry Bartley and drummer Rod Youngs to the group.  Hal was great fun and I will always remember how he when meeting a new person he would say ‘If I’d known you were coming, I would have baked a cake’! 

It was wonderful to hear the three players together and I particularly remember how it brought the very best out of Andy’s playing.

Hal Singer lived to celebrate his centenary, but died earlier in August this year.

The photograph of Hal, David and Andy was taken by Russ Escritt.

Reference

Dudley-Evans, A. (2017) The friendship between David Murray and Andy Hamilton Jazz Research Journal 11 (1), pp. 87-88.

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