JJ 12/18: Obituary – Barry McRae

First published Jazz Journal, December 2018


A longtime and prolific contributor to this magazine, Barry McRae died 7 October 2018, aged 83. He started writing in 1960 under founding editor Sinclair Traill and supplied a regular flow of record and book reviews and club, concert and festival reports for the next half century. His work was always articulate, carefully considered, deeply knowledgeable and invariably enthusiastic.

Perhaps his major contribution was the long series of expert articles headlined as AB Basics, Avant Courier, Arena, Tomorrow Is Now and Sound Investment. They covered all aspects of jazz with a latterday emphasis on free playing. This was also the subject of his pioneering and influential book, Jazz Cataclysm (1967 with a 1985 US reprint). Additionally, he wrote The Jazz Handbook (1987) and biographies of Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis in the 1988 Jazz Masters series.

As well as his work for Jazz Journal, Barry wrote regularly for Wire magazine, Jazz News and Jazz Down Under (Australia) and he was often selected as the UK representative for the Downbeat critics’ poll. He was a frequent jazz radio broadcaster and lecturer.

Many readers and contributors probably remember Barry best as a cheerful companion at the Nice jazz festival during the George Wein glory years. There was always a strong JJ presence with at various times Sinclair Traill and later Eddie and Janet Cook, Steve Voce, Chris Sheridan, Martin Richards, Tony Shoppee, David Redfern and Tim Motion. Whereas we hung out during the day on the beach, at seafront cafés and the musicians’ hotel, Barry usually stayed in his room writing – such was his dedication and work ethic. But he was always there at Cimiez each evening with a few jokes and an impromptu jazz quiz.

Even when he retired from his day job as a buyer for the Distillers Company and he ceased writing due to the onset of dementia, Barry continued his weekly visits to Googlies Jazz And Supper Club in Potters Bar. There he prolonged his lifelong devotion to jazz and jazz people by enjoying the local band and chatting with his friends and visiting guest musicians. Barry is survived by his devoted wife Sylvia, their daughter Fiona and their two grandsons Bradley and Ralph.
Bob Weir