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Artist Profile
Tommy McCook
Mar 3, 1927 ~ May 5, 1998
Tommy McCook’s beautiful tenor saxophone graced countless sixties and seventies recordings but his work as a composer and arranger is every bit as important. He is one of the undisputed architects and builders of modern Jamaican music.
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Place of birth:
Jamaica
Kingston
"Tommy, along with Roland Alphonso, founded the famous Skatalites band and he has moved forward ever since..." 'Brass Rockers

Tommy McCook was born in Havana, Cuba to Jamaican parents on 3rd March 1927 and moved to Kingston, Jamaica six years later where, at the age of eleven, Tommy's mother entrusted him to the Roman Catholic nuns at the Alpha Catholic Boys Home And School. He studied music theory, flute and tenor saxophone for four years at the famous Kingston charitable institution. Many of the island's legendary jazz musicians, including Don Drummond, Bobby Ellis, Vincent 'Don D Junior' Gordon, Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore and Rico Rodriguez, also learnt their craft at Alpha under band master Lennie Hibbert. On leaving Alpha Tommy began to play with the Eric Deans Orchestra and the Ray Coburn Dance Band where he soon established a reputation as one of Jamaica's most accomplished young musicians. But, during the fifties, there were not many musical opportunities to be found in Kingston and a number of the island's best musicians emigrated in order to find work overseas. In 1954 Tommy McCook sailed for the Bahamas to play with a dance band in Nassau.

"We used to play orchestrated music from the USA from the big band era. I started in big band music. In 1943 I was playing American orchestrations, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington and later Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa. The whole thing. But in the dance bands I played in, especially in the Bahamas, the tourists didn't want to hear any jazz at all. They wanted to hear island music: rumbas, calypsos, whatever. The minute we started an American standard they would say 'We don't want no American music. We just left that at home. We don't want that here.' But it was fine by me. By 1963 I was tired of it."Tommy McCook

On returning to Kingston Tommy started working with Aubrey Adams at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel. He also began to make ska recordings for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) at Studio One and Duke Reid at Treasure Isle: it apparently required a great deal of persuasion to convince him that ska could ever be as important as jazz because "jazz was my first love". The "twenty or so studio musicians who played on nearly all early Jamaican records" all came from jazz backgrounds and Tommy was eventually persuaded to organise them into one collective aggregation.

Somebody had suggested 'The Satellites'. It was 'Dizzy', Lloyd Knibbs or one of the brothers. But I said 'No. 'The Skatalites' since the ska was what we played." Tommy McCook

The Skatalites played their first public engagement at the Hi Hat Club in Rae Town and stayed together from 1963 until 1965 when they played their farewell show at a police dance at the Runaway Bay Hotel. Their time together was brief but their influence was beyond compare. During these two incredibly creative years they perfected an authentic new Jamaican music and helped to set the template for the island's fledgling music business.

In the summer of 1965 Tommy took over arranging the horn parts for society band Kes Chin and The Souvenirs while other members of The Skatalites began to work in smaller studio based ensembles. As ska shifted towards rock steady Roland Alphonso and Jackie Mittoo formed The Soul Brothers at Coxsone's Studio One and Tommy McCook became musical co-director (alongside alto saxophonist Herman Marquis) for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle house band: Tommy McCook & The Supersonics.

"I was fortunate. I had the ideas that the guys needed on their sessions and they respected my compositional skills to put music to the rhythms." Tommy McCook

It has often been said that the arrival of rock steady signalled the demise of Kingston's horn sections. There is a degree of truth in this but many of the horns men continued to work, live on stage and in the studios, as musical arrangers and solo instrumentalists. Tommy McCook, as both musical arranger and tenor saxophonist at Treasure Isle, was again in the vanguard of a new musical revolution and the significance of rock steady to the subsequent development of Jamaican music is incalculable.

Towards the close of 1968 the new reggae sound began to take over and Duke Reid continued to release some of the biggest hits in the new faster style.

"Four of these numbers are currently in the JBC Top Twenty Chart including Duke's latest sound, the 'Raggae'..." Here Comes The Duke

The following year 'Lock Jaw', recorded down on Bond Street under the guidance of Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry) and credited to 'Upsetter & Tommy McCook and The Supersonics', highlighted an entirely new direction for Jamaican music: deejays and dub. The story of either 'Ruddy' Redwood and/or King Tubby removing the vocal tracks for special mixes of either 'You Don't Care' or 'On The Beach' has been well documented and it is now very difficult to say who was actually the first. However, no-one has ever argued about the fact that it was a Treasure Isle rock steady rhythm that started the entire version/dub phenomenon.

As well as working with Duke Reid, Tommy McCook also toured internationally with reggae's top artists, worked at all of Kingston's studios and recorded for many other producers including Bunny Lee's Aggrovators.

"... I work at all of the studios, Federal, Dynamics, Randy's(Randys), Harry J but I'm based at Treasure Isle where I supervise the sessions and help with the mixing of tapes and the cutting of the masters." Tommy McCook

In 1983 the remaining members of The Skatalites reformed to play the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica and subsequently toured the world bringing their timeless rhythmical charm to a whole new generation of music lovers.

Tommy McCook died in Atlanta, Georgia USA on 5th May 1998. His matchless body of work stretching from jazz through ska, rock steady, reggae and back to ska again will ensure forever that his pivotal role in the creation of modern Jamaican music will never be forgotten.
 
Related artist(s):
Skatalites
Supersonics
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Description of item
[All Items] → [7"] → [Ska / Rocksteady] → [Rock Steady] → [Hemsley Morris, Phil Pratt]
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vinyl 7" 7"
Hemsley Morris, Phil Pratt / Tommy McCook
Little Things / Bigger Things
Pressure Sounds UK/Caltone
¥1580 (US$13.27)
Rating: 1234
Genre: Ska / Rocksteady
Sub Genre: Rock Steady
Produced by: Phil Pratt
Approx. year: 1968
Date added: Nov 18, 2011
Date re-stocked: Mar 11, 2015
Country: England
Catalog number: PSS048
Music type: Vocal B: Vocal
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SIDE A:
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SIDE B:
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