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Gaynair happy at National Award

By Brian Bonitto
Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NOT much is known in Jamaica of veteran saxophonist Ferdinand “Bobby Little Bra” Gaynair. The 89-year-old is one of 171 who will be conferred national honours at King's House in St Andrew tomorrow.

“Well, this national honour is surprising. I didn't expect it. I didn't even know I was doing anything special. I've always wanted to come back to Jamaica and get a sea bath and visit Alpha,” said Gaynair, who has made Canada his home for more than two decades.

“I'm happy the Government is really recognising me and have not forgotten me,” he continued.

Gaynair, an Alpha Boys' School alumnus and younger brother of late jazz saxophonist Wilton “Bogey” Gaynair, will be invested with the Order of Distinction (Officer class) for his contribution to Jamaica's music.

The elder Gaynair, a prolific musician, played in the band at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. He died in Germany in February 1995.

Gaynair said music played an integral part of their formative years.

“I was a gifted dancer... We loved music. We listened to whatever music we could. We also had a gramophone with windows that we used to wind up. My father, Fitz Henry Gaynair, who worked on ships, would bring back records that he used to bring back from foreign countries. At that time we were living on Orange Street (in downtown Kingston). We would always listen to the Salvation Army band... I fell in love with the saxophone and told my mother. She always promised: 'One day you'll learn how to play the saxophone,'” he recalled.

Sadly, Gaynair's desire only materialised after the passing of his dad.

“I was nine going onto 10 when I went to Alpha. My brother was a year older than me... We started with the clarinet, then moved to the saxophone,” he said.

“We were strangers and just entered the school. What struck me, everybody was religious. The students were restricted religiously and had to learn the Catholic catechism,” he chuckled.

He visited the institution last Thursday.

Seen as the cradle of Jamaica's music, Alpha Boys' School (now Alpha Institute) has produced a formidable roster of musicians and singers. They include Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Lester Sterling, Headley Bennett, Rico Rodriquez, Bobby Ellis, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, David Madden, Vin Gordon, and Leroy Smart.

Saxophonists McCook and Sterling, trombonist Drummond, and trumpeter Moore were founding members of The Skatalites, an all-star band whose jazzy hooks were the mainstay of ska, a new sound that rocked Jamaica during the early 1960s.

After leaving Alpha, Gaynair played with some of Jamaica's early big bands at the dawn of Jamaica's pre-ska period. As a session musician, he did a lot of recordings in the early days with producers, especially Duke Reid. He played on Pink Lane Shuffle, Judgement Day with Lauren Aitken, and the solo on Derrick Morgan's S Corner Rock.

“In Wareika Hills I used to play with Count Ossie. I played my sax while drums backed me,” Gaynair recalled.

Any advice to today's musicians?

“Practice and study!”

The full list of arts and entertainment recipients are: Bunny Wailer (Order of Merit); Robert Russell (Order of Distinction — Commander class); Prof Keith Morrison (Order of Distinction — Commander class); Carl Bradshaw (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Copeland Forbes (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Rosina Moder (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Carlos Malcolm (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Lloyd Stanbury (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Clyde McKenzie (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Patrick Brown (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Maxine Walters (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); Joseph “Josey Wales” Sterling (Order of Distinction — Officer rank); and Michael “String Bean” Nicholson (Badge of Honour — Long and Faithful Service).