Jazz saxophonist and clarinettist Gay McIntyre, is regarded as one of the foremost leading performers in Ireland, UK and Europe. With a fabulous professional musical career that spans
incredibly more than 75 years- he was a phenomenon. He established himself as one of the top rank jazz performers through his musical interactions with his peers, those elite jazz musicians from Canada, UK, USA, Ireland and other parts of Europe. This was an extraordinary achievement considering that he was brought up in a city at a time when jazz was an exception and classical music and/or traditional music were the normative. His highly emotive, lyrical style of jazz improvisation was influenced by that of American jazz musicians, saxophonists Paul Desmond, Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz and clarinettists Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The world renowned Irish guitarist, Louis Stewart, a great friend and fellow performer described McIntyre as ‘The Sound’ due to the rich sonorous breadth of his saxophone tone and said that his approach to improvised melodic material was unorthodox. It was Gay’s father, respected bandleader Willy McIntyre, who introduced him to music. The introduction came in the form of hearing an Artie Shaw record which Willy had been given by a World War II serviceman. Upon hearing the record Gay burst into tears and his parents subsequently bought him a clarinet. His father, Willy McIntyre (a self-taught musician, also taught his two brothers Joe and Jimmy to read music), and thus set the scene for Gay’s wonderful development as a jazz musician.
Gay started early in his career as a professional musician at the age of 14, when he was engaged to perform with a band from 9 pm to 3 am at a club called ‘Foleys’ in Kinlough, Co. Donegal. From the age of 16, he led his own family band that included mostly McIntyres. The ‘Gay McIntyre Band’ included Joe, Gay’s brother on tenor saxophone, his sister Emma on piano and his father on double bass, his uncles Joe on trumpet, Jimmy on saxophone, and his cousin Seamus McIntyre, tenor sax and later trombone. The drummer was Tommy McNulty, who was the son of Jackie McNulty, a pianist who had played with Gay’s father and uncles in an earlier group called ‘The Melville Dance Band’. The band performed to packed venues throughout Ireland and gained a reputation for performing quality music at a high level. The Gay McIntyre Band toured Ireland and the UK until he was 32 years of age. After he married Irene, he spent two years in Manchester, England where he led a band that included the BBC presenter Gerry Anderson.
During the late 1960s on his return McIntyre resided in Belfast where he performed on the television series ‘Teatime with Tommy’(James) and the ‘White Line’ a jazz half-hour daily on UTV. As invited soloist he regularly starred with the Northern Ireland Orchestra in Belfast under the direction of Alan Tongue and with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Dublin. He also performed for BBC radio broadcasts with the Poet Laureate, Seamus Heaney for recitals of his literary work. It was in the 1970s that he returned to Derry and began his 27 years as a peripatetic music tutor in the Western Education and Library Board.
He was well established as a leading figure on the jazz scene and collaborated often with one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world, Louis Stewart. Gay would organise and was instrumental in the early jazz festival concert events in Derry and then perform with visiting artists such as Humphrey Lyttleton, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and many others. He regularly toured and performed at jazz festivals at home and abroad. The London jazz promoter Robert Masters acted as his agent and fixed a number of major performances with the Canadian pianist Oliver Jones and Alec Danqworth and other lineups that included the Canadian vibraphonist Peter Appleyard and subsequent performances in London with Dick Morrissey. The various performances with the Canadians in the 1980s were televised from Cork Opera House by RTÉ. He regularly starred at many jazz festivals with other leading performers such as the Cork Jazz Festival, and Derry Jazz Festival, Guinness Jazz Spot at Queen’s and made programmes for BBC with a quartet that included Louis Stewart, Peter Ainscough on drums and the virtuoso double bassist Steve la Spina from New York. He was a Derry man at heart, and loves to perform on his home turf, sharing his knowledge and talent both locally and nationally, and did all of this while he continued his career as an educator and
inspiration to many young people and musicians over the years.