Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Solly Lipsitz: Legend who opened up a world of jazz dies aged 92

Jazz man: Solly Lipsitz
Jazz man: Solly Lipsitz

He was the man who brought jazz to Northern Ireland.

Tributes were on Sunday night being paid to Solly Lipsitz – a renowned figure who devoted his life to making music, writing about the subject and giving young musicians a chance to make good – who has died at the age of 92.

The former Belfast Telegraph music critic, who died on Saturday night, was credited with introducing jazz to music lovers here.

"He was passionate about jazz especially," Van Morrison once told me about one of the few critics and writers about music he respected.

"I had a regard for the man," added Van the Man. "He was a music critic who actually made music himself."

Solly fell in love with jazz when he bought himself a trumpet in the 40s and took lessons.

He played in several bands and then opened The Jazz Club on the Embankment in Belfast where among his discoveries was Rodney Foster, who went on to international fame.

Solly, who lived off the Lisburn Road, was known everywhere as Northern Ireland's Mr Jazz.

But if he didn't like a piece of music or a band he was not afraid to say so and had a reputation for always speaking his mind.

But when he liked a style or a musician's way with a tune, he was always outspoken with praise.

He described celebrated drummer Jack Molloy as the best drummer in Ireland. At the time Molloy was delighted to earn such praise from such a well known critic, although he added: "Even though I knew Solly was right."

Solly, who also in his time owned a record shop in the town, had associations with Atlantic Records on whose vinyl many careers were launched.

He had an eye for art and paintings and was known occasionally to dabble with a brush himself.

He was a lecturer in the Belfast College of Art and Design.

"Solly and Dougie Knight, another great music man, imported jazz and blues records into the UK as well as Northern Ireland at a time in the '60s when that kind of music was practically unknown on this side of the Atlantic," says broadcaster Ivan Martin.

Solly, who is survived by his partner Anne, was described by broadcaster Eamonn Mallie as a unique and highly cultured individual who was an authority on jazz and the arts.

"He was likeable and charming too," he added.

One of Solly's hobbies was collecting good books and he had many Seamus Heaney first editions. Another close friend was the celebrated artist Neil Shawcross who, when the jazzman became frail and unable to travel, drove him to functions.

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