NEA Arts Magazine

Tom McIntosh

Composer/arranger

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Tom McIntosh

Trombonist and composer/arranger Tom McIntosh. Photo by Tom Pich.

Though not well known outside of jazz circles, the unique voice of composer and arranger Tom "Mac" McIntosh made him a favorite of Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Milt Jackson, and Tommy Flanagan, among other jazz giants.

McIntosh was born in 1927 in Baltimore. After a stint with the Army, he attended the Juilliard School and soon became an active participant in the New York jazz scene as a trombone player and composer.

He was a member of the famous Jazztet, formed by Benny Golson and Art Farmer, and was one of the founders of the New York Jazz Sextet. Many outstanding New York-based instrumentalists of the 1950s and '60s migrated in and out of the band, including Thad Jones, Art Farmer, James Moody, and Tommy Flanagan. McIntosh and Moody have a long history of friendship and collaboration dating back to the 1950s. McIntosh also was an original member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, to which he contributed songs and arrangements.

In the 1960s, McIntosh went to Hollywood as a film composer and remained in California for the next 20 years as a music director for films and television. McIntosh returned to the East Coast in the 1990s, teaching at various conservatories, including Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. He also continued to write music. In 2004, he released his first recording under his own name (at the age of 77), with a second volume of his works forthcoming.

NEA: So you basically started your musical training in the Army.

TOM MCINTOSH: My first job as a musician was to use the tuba bell to keep the front line straight. Make sure all the guys see the bell on this other end here. Line up between the two tubas and keep the line straight. So when it was over, the sergeant said, "Listen, the colonel said the band looked good and sounded good. You guys are in." And he saw my face drop because I knew I was out. I couldn't play. But he said, "Look man, you did us a big favor. Now it's my turn to do you one. I'll let you stay in the band if you learn how to play some marches on that tuba." Here's my shot. Forget football, boxing, and all of that. I'm now going to become a musician.

Then they had a dance band rehearsal. And lo and behold it started with a very impressive first piece, and then it went into this beautiful trombone solo played by a guy named Frank Hooks. And he played so soulfully. He played this song that I used to hear, "Estrellita." I felt like a band of angels rushed in the room saying, "You see? You were indeed supposed to be a musician. The trombone is your instrument and ‘Estrellita' is your theme song." It turned my life around.