Jimmy McIntosh MBE 1925 – 2021

It is with sincere regret we announce the passing of one of the most influential pipers of the 20th century, Jimmy McIntosh MBE. He was 95. Jimmy passed away peacefully at his home in South Carolina after being cared for in his final days by his wife Joyce and son Cameron.

Jimmy was born and brought up in Broughty Ferry near Dundee and was sent off to the Army when only 14. Prior to this, his strict father had, however, organised piping lessons for him and these were to pay off for Boy McIntosh once in the Cameron Highlanders. 

Jimmy received further lessons from P/M Donald MacLeod at Fort George and from P/M Willie Ross at Edinburgh Castle. Too young for active service during WW2, he was eventually posted to the Far East where he came into contact with Lt Col David Murray. Theirs was to be a lifelong friendship.

Becoming disillusioned with the Army after WW2, Jimmy bought himself out and determined to make a better life for his family. A job at the National Cash Register factory in Dundee led to his becoming the band’s pipe major and he led them to world success in Grade 2.

Jimmy receives the proofs of his memoir last year

When talking to a Dundee friend, Peter Forbes, Jimmy was persuaded to have another go at solo competing, something he had not done since his Army days. From 1965 he had lessons from RU Brown, Balmoral. This was to be a transformational experience for him and thereafter he dedicated himself to the study of ceòl mòr, driving the long, lonely miles north via Glenshee for his regular lessons.

When Bob Brown died, Jimmy took instruction from his counterpart and gamekeeping colleague, RB Nicol, the other half of the ‘Bobs of Balmoral’. It was not long before Jimmy started having real piobaireachd success and he took the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1971 (Tulloch Ard) and Oban in 1978 (The Big Spree). He went on to win many more titles and has the distinction of being the first winner of what was then the Grant’s Championship at Blair Castle.

With growing numbers of competitors at the major contests, Jimmy recognised the need for a body to represent solo pipers, and in 1976 founded the Competing Pipers’ Association. His friendship with Lt Col Murray bore fruit when the latter, now Northern Meting Piping Convenor, agreed to hold the first CPA Silver Medal competition at Inverness in 1977.

Jimmy and his wife Joyce on a visit to Glasgow in 2018

Jimmy retired not long after and decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to passing on the teaching of the two Bobs. His reed making business was thriving and in 1977 he had been invited to help develop the new Naill chanter. It became the choice of the leading players at that time.

Jimmy always loved travelling and was in constant teaching demand all over the world but particularly in North America. He was spending so much time there that he eventually decided, in 1982, to emigrate to the US.

He had a huge and immediate impact on piping there, rising to the office of President of the Eatern United States Pipe Band Association and instituting a whole raft of judging and competing criteria in the process. He continued to do well in business and his growing band of pupils picked up prizes wherever they competed. These included Mike Rogers, Jack Lee, Mike Cusack, Amy Garson, Nick Hudson, Bruce Gandy and Murray Henderson.

Jimmy was instrumental in establishing the first piping professorship in the world at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It was here that he had met and married his wife Joyce. 

Worldwide travel, teaching and judging spanned the next decades but Jimmy always tried to play his pipes every day and well into his 90s was still having a tune. Some of his last recordings can be found on the Piping Press Audio Archive.

In 2014 Jimmy produced his own piobaireachd book, ‘Ceol Mor – In the Balmoral Tradition’, a very well received publication, faithful to his teaching. Throughout his long life he amassed a considerable archive of written music and recorded material and this he has donated to St Thomas’s Episcopal School, Houston, Texas, where his former pupil Mike Cusack is headmaster. 

Last year Jimmy completed his memoirs. These will be an illuminating read for everyone interested in piping shedding light as they do on all aspects of his piping career and the people he met and was involved with along the way. Sadly he did not live long enough to see them published. 

He was honoured by Her Majesty The Queen with the presentation of the MBE in 1994 and in 2002 was awarded the Balvenie Medal. Both were for services to piping.

Few people have done as much for our music as James Haddow McIntosh MBE. His work will be recalled as long as pipes are played, particularly in the US. He was a wonderful interpreter of piobaireachd and one of the finest teachers of the modern era. We are fortunate that he has left us much to remember him by.

Sincere condolences at this time to Joyce and Cameron and the wider family. RW

  • If any reader would like to leave a message of condolence or share a memory of Jimmy please do so in our Comments section below.

29 thoughts on “Jimmy McIntosh MBE 1925 – 2021

  1. Hi Joyce, I was looking for a piper for our mother’s celebration of life and found this article about your husband Jimmy. I am so sorry to hear of his passing and pray for peace and comfort for you and your son. The bagpipes are a wonderful legacy to leave behind. I hope you always always find great comfort in them as I do!
    Love Leigh Ann

  2. I first contacted Jimmy in Late 1997 in a bit of a musically stale place. He was very giving right away and from then on he was always receptive of phone calls to talk through a tune and a recording I had sent. Money, geography and time prevented me from getting to see him in person much but when we met up, I always had an artillery of questions to ask about a tunes phrasing or pace and if I was seeing it right.
    I’ll always laugh now remembering sending him a recording of 8 tunes as I needed I believe 4 for gold medal and I believe 4 for clasp. He was quick to say “ you must know all 8 tunes just as well if you plan to play both events. I think the Rout of Glenfruin is your worst tune.” He then took the time to be sure I really was getting it. A very special tune for me now after success at Inverness.
    Jimmy was always happy to teach or talk on phone about something in a tune. I think of his usual line when I ask a question. He usually knew the answer before I was done asking the question, but if not I would hear “hold on Bruce, let me get my book”.
    I’ll miss those chats but with talks and 79 piobs digitally from him (counted yesterday ) his memory will live on with me forever. Condolences to Joyce and Cameron as they work through these difficult times

  3. Jimmy McIntosh enhanced my appreciation for and skill in understanding and playing piobaireachd. This has given me a great deal of pleasure since I first had instruction from him at piping schools he taught in Calgary, starting 1977.

    In addition to previously articulated traits, I would like to emphasize that Jimmy demonstrated that he had a very open mind on many subjects. For instance, I sat in on a class he was teaching in Colorado one year. He was teaching some older adults, many of whom could not get their fingers to play a crunluath. He encouraged them to learn the grounds so that they could enjoy the great music and heritage that has been passed down.

    He also taught tunes that he loved and thus his enthusiasm helped one get caught up in the flow of the music. I would think that there are many of his students who can hear him in their mind, singing along when they play Earl of Seaforth’s or Beloved Scotland, or Lament for the Children, etc. etc. etc.
    etc. And you went over how many tunes that week ? Yes, he did not waste anyone’s time.

    He seemed to very much enjoy being with students, even if he had been teaching them for hours. There was a spare seat at the round lunch table in the cafeteria at a summer school, so I joined the group. The young students were talking about a wide variety of topics, as young teenagers do. Jimmy was very much a part of the conversation, and took great joy in participating and listening to their discussions and news.

    People who achieve get noticed but I think of those who achieve, it is those who value people and live with integrity and enthusiasm who do truly great things and are thus remembered with fondness and gratitude by those who have been fortunate to have known them. Jimmy set a great example, as a skilled professional musician and as a person and I was sad to hear the news.
    Condolences to Joyce and family, as well as others who are feeling this loss.

    1. Betty Anne, you have done such a marvelous job of capturing my Jimmy’s personality. Someone just today commented on his being able to converse with any age group about any subject, and to have a meaningful contribution to those discussions. He never tired of spending time with any level of student. Brought the best out in folks.

      Thank you for this fitting tribute.

  4. These comments are such a joy to read! Jimmy impacted so many people. I am grateful for 37 years or so of his teaching, mentorship and friendship. I knew that our time with Jimmy was limited, but I, like most, was not prepared for that message on Monday. Joyce had been keeping us updated (thank you, Joyce), and fortunately, my wife and I were able to see Jimmy and Joyce in mid-December. Jimmy, of course, insisted that the pipes come out after lunch – MacSwan of Roaig and Donald Duaghal! A lasting memory of that visit will always be playing the “Earl of Seaforth’s Salute” on a set of small pipes that Bob Shepherd had gifted to Jimmy. It was late in the evening, and Jimmy’s sat comfortably on the sofa, head tilted back, conducting and singing along. What a beautiful moment. I am incredibly grateful for the music, for this great instrument and for Jimmy McIntosh. I am also grateful for Joyce, Cameron and the community of dear friends that Jimmy connected me to. Rest in peace, Jimmy. Condolences to all.

  5. I am deeply saddened to learn of Jimmy’s passing, he’ll be missed throughout the whole piping world. May his many contributions to the art of Ceol Mor live on!
    I was privileged many years ago when Jimmy was living in Delaware and thinking about moving to Pittsburgh, to have facilitated his applying for and obtaining his position at CMU. So many folks benefited as a result.
    I dearly remember the lessons at Jimmy & Joyce’s home in Pittsburgh where he shared so much with me over those years, patiently (!) pointing out the nuances that made the music come alive. Although physically unable to play the piob mor any more, i still sing those tunes in my head while fingering along. I think my favorite was (and is) Beloved Scotland, but so many others…
    Condolences to Joyce and Cameron. Take comfort in the knowledge that his love for and dedication to the great music lives on in all those he touched.

  6. I would like to leave a sincere thank you to all who have written these beautiful tributes. I began by trying to reply to each comment yesterday, but that seems a very daunting task after today’s tributes.

    Each of you has provided a unique memory here. Yet, the threads running through all the messages are similar. He was happiest when teaching and sharing his knowledge, and did so freely and always with joy. His memory, especially for tunes and long-forgotten facts, was simply amazing. His generosity was overwhelming, sometimes to his own detriment, but he just couldn’t help himself.

    I speak not only as his wife, but also as a long-time pupil of his amazing teaching of Piobaireachd, that we have indeed lost a legend, but weren’t we all so blessed to have been recipients of this man’s knowledge, love, kindness, and generosity?

    Sincerely yours, Joyce

  7. Brilliant piper, selfless educator, and a singular gentleman. I’m so grateful to have been introduced and instructed in piobaireachd (not to mention light music) by Jimmy. I still reference my recordings of him singing or playing — a treasure I’ll keep always.

  8. What a character!? What a player!? What a scholar!? What a teacher!? The list goes on and on. Jimmy was not only a mentor to me for the last eleven years, he was one of my closest friends. A very generous and kind person that was all about trying to do best for piping and for the promotion and preservation of the playing of our ceól mòr.

    It was always a real pleasure to play for Jimmy. He had the unique ability to make the dots on the page sing and pass that knowledge along to his students at every level. He also wouldn’t hesitate to give me a well deserved kick up the backside! In turn, he would always play a tune or two for me on the pipes… the last time I heard him play was in May 2020… he was 94 (a month shy of 95) and picked a wee small tune to play with Patrick Og! The music pouring out of him, his high G singing and what a crunluath!? (better than mine, and I was 60 years his junior!).

    Just under a month ago, I had the pleasure of sharing my last visit with Carnegie Mellon graduate and good friend Nick Hudson. The 95 year old was still in good form and put the two of us through our paces. With COVID-19 restrictions, the visit itself was complicated with multiple negative tests required, but it was well worth it! We managed to play the maestro 16 tunes in the course of two days – 8 big tunes each. Jimmy sang and fingered along the entire way. A lasting memory will be me hitting a wrong note in line two of the taorluath doubling of the Unjust and the eye roll I got as a result. “Oh deary me!” Even at 95, his piobaireachd memory was razor sharp!

    A real character; very quick witted. He regularly drank coffee until 5pm, followed by wine until bedtime (although it often was already “5 o’clock somewhere” with Jimmy). “Water’s for camels” was another common expression of his (resulting from a WW2 illness in Aden from drinking the water there – he would never drink water again!). Everywhere he went, he was the life of the party, even amongst young pipers 70, 80 or even 85 years his junior!

    Another memory was at the Atlanta workshop a few years ago – many of the piping and drumming greats were in attendance as instructors. For the instructor concert on the Saturday night, already in his 90’s… he wasn’t at all shy of performing. He played Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran along with me and Chris Apps (tunes were his suggestions!)… and when there was any suggestion that some instructors were too old to play (yes, Ken Eller and Richard Parkes) – he reminded us all that he was in his 90’s and if he was playing, they had zero excuse for not playing a tune… which they did and did tremendously well! His response was actually to play a full piobaireachd, ‘Lament for Alasdair Dearg MacDonnell of Glengarry,’ including a crunluath-a-mach! A lot of solo piping and pipe band stars of the modern era performed that evening… Jimmy the talking point as always, leaving the audience with a standing ovation!

    Jimmy lived, ate, slept and breathed piobaireachd! Averaging 3-4 full piobaireachd on his old Lawrie or Robertson bagpipe each and every day, well into his mid-90’s, he must have come close to the individual that played the most piobaireachd in history! His teachings, inherited from P/M Bob Brown, P/M Bob Nicol (and earlier from P/M Willie Ross and P/M Donald MacLeod from his time in the Cameron Highlanders) will be passed down by the hundreds of pipers he has taught. He will be sorely missed by all that knew him, but his amazing legacy will live on.

    We have lost one of our greats! Thoughts and prayers with his dear wife Joyce, sons Roddy and Cameron, daughters Margaret and Moira and all of his extended family, friends and hundreds of fellow students.

  9. Good bye my old friend. You changed bag piping in America with a steady hand and soft voice. I will miss you.

  10. Like so many others, I owe so much to Jimmy McIntosh for his support, kindness, generosity and willingness to share his knowledge of piobaireachd with me. I was on the verge of quitting piping when I attended a summer school in Timmons Ontario in the mid-1970s. It was Jimmy’s teaching that introduced me to piobaireachd and motivated me to continue piping. Jimmy favoured teaching students in pairs, such that collectively the music that he taught would not be lost. Jimmy paired me with another young piper, Ken Garson, who later became my husband and life partner. Ken and I have remained close friends and loyal students of Jimmy for over 45 years. Many times over the years, Jimmy and his wife Joyce opened their home to us and other pupils, always providing a healthy dose of kind hospitality while ensuring there was lots of time to learn and review tunes. I cannot put into words the positive impact that Jimmy had on my life and how dearly I miss him now that he has passed away. Not only have I lost a dear friend, but the world of piping has lost a great master. Get your pipes out and play a piobaireachd to honour Jimmy’s legacy! Long may it live on! Sincere condolences to his beloved wife Joyce and children Cameron, Roddy, Moira, Margaret and their families.

    1. I recall being in the Timmins school Amy when you were there in 1977 I believe. The four tunes Jimmy covered offered a foundation to all present and his passion for the music was indeed infectious. Will dig out the cassettes made by the class as we played along to Jimmy’s unique singing style. I recall you spending extra time with Jimmy on material beyond what the class was doing. Was it “Too Long in This Condition”? For certain he left a lasting impression on many in our group and I can’t imagine how many students in the all the years before and all that have passed since.
      Deepest sympathies to his family.

  11. Attending the summer schools in Timmins, Ontario, I was introduced to the teachings of Jimmy McIntosh, and learned so much from him, as so many of us truly did. He gave so many of us our first piobaireachd which has never left us, and we have always played it with the pride that he instilled in us.
    A great man, a great player, and truly a great supporter of the pipes whose dedication will last generations.
    Thank you Jimmy, for everything you gave us and continue to give us, and to Joyce and Cameron for being such a wonderful part of his life. I wish you all the very best.

  12. I was very sad to read this news today. I was taught by Peter Forbes, mentioned above, and then by Jimmy in Dundee where he was a leading light in the Tayside Pipers Society. He gave his time freely to many pupils at a class held on Wednesday nights in the home of Bob Leitch. The TPS met on Saturday nights in Broughty Ferry and the format was that those who wanted to play were given every encouragement.
    Jimmy guided me through the junior contests, Highland Games and into the daunting realms of indoor professional contests when I turned 16. We toured many Highland Games together and even provided a recital for an estate owner near Kinloch Rannoch who had arrived at his estate too late for the games. Willie Dickson, Bill Wotherspoon, Jimmy and I had travelled together from Dundee, competed at the games and we were then invited to play for the estate owner and his family who had just arrived from their London home. Great days indeed!
    I met Jimmy on his last visit to Scotland at Fort George; a place which for which he didn’t have fond memories. I met him again at his daughter’s house in Fife where we compared notes of good and bad competition days, special tunes, etc. This was only a year or two ago and he was still playing 3 piobaireachd a day which was no mean feat for someone who appeared to defy the passage of time.
    My heartfelt condolences to Joyce and the rest of Jimmy’s family. It was a pleasure to have spent so much time with him and I can still hear him sing as he taught me yet another piobaireachd.

    Thanks for everything

    Ian

  13. How sad I am with the passing of my so good and nice Friend Jimmy. He taught me first in piping at Piriac sur Mer (Brittany) in the last of seventies, then by tape for one year, and I visited him at Little Brechin. I have to say that he gave me the perfect rules and the right basis of great playing for ever… I knew I won’t need any more explanations in so far I would remember as the way he taught me. His picture from Cancale stands in my piping room with his face full of kindness and happyness… Just I’ll never forget him being so gratefull with him. Thank you Jimmy.
    With all my sympathy to you Joyce and your son.

  14. I remember playing MacNeil of Barra’s March for Jimmy at Ligonier Games many years back. He was delighted with it and later that day asked if I’d like to join his workshops at CMU. I was quite chuffed at the prospect. Drove all night to get to the first weekend workshop… Upon arrival, I could not for the life of me find the “Navy” building, Remember my frantic call Joyce? I didn’t want to be late!

    I ended up attending GSIA, now Tepper Business School at CMU. Enjoyed every moment I was able to learn something new about a tunes presentation from Jimmy.

    Joyce, prayers for you and Cameron. God speed Jimmy, you will be sorely missed.

    1. Thank you Bernie. He was a very special man, and treated everyone with kindness and respect. So passionate about his music, and passing his knowledge on to others.

  15. Robert Barnes;- Fond memorys of Jimmy. Jimmy got me the job in Oman, gave me the kickstart in building my life, tuition early eighties, Thankyou not enough. Cheers jimmy

    1. Thank you Robert. He has helped so many to get started in the same manner. It was just his way. If he saw an opportunity to help someone get started, he was right there, making contacts and inroads to set them on their way.

  16. I will never forget the sessions I had with Jimmy when he was living in Dundee in 1971 . I was a pupil of R.U.Brown at the time , and I used to go to Bob Nicol and also to Jimmy for further tuition .I spent a few days with him in Dundee and he gave me tunes like Beloved Scotland , he was very fond of the tune , or Red Speckled Bull .
    It was so good to see Jim regularly in Cancale at the Pibroch by the sea event .
    All my condolences to Joyce.
    RIP Jimmy.
    Patrick

    1. Thank you Patrick. Jimmy loved teaching. It was his passion for many, many years, and he taught so many souls–not only piping, life skills. He was a consummate role model, and that gift will live on in many folks.

      It was so nice to meet you at Cancale.

      Thank you again for your thoughts.

  17. I was so sad to hear of Jimmy’s passing. I new he had not been keeping great but a shock just the same.
    It was through Jimmy, that I started teaching at the Balmoral Schools in the US.
    I always enjoyed staying over with him and Joyce at their home in Pittsburgh, prior to the schools starting. Many a session we had on the pipes. I can’t imagine that was 30 odd years ago when we first met up.
    A great and knowledgeable piper and always the gentleman.
    He will be sadly missed. My condolences to Joyce, Cameron, and family.

    1. Thank you so much Ian, Yes, ever the gentleman. He had gained so much knowledge, and shared it freely with anyone who cared to take it in.

      We loved entertaining piping friends at our home. Always a pleasure. I know he had the greatest respect for you as well, Ian, and all that you have accomplished.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  18. I’ll never forget our first meeting as a young know nothing of 15 when he encouraged me to attend the summer session of the Balmoral Piping School in 1986. He always had time for everyone and I will forever be grateful for the endless patience he had for me with my endless nonsensical questions I kept asking him. He was a fountain of knowledge. I last communicated with him last month or so on some technical point about MacSwan of Roaig and as ever kept me on my toes.

    Thank you very much Jimmy.

    RIP

    Yahya

    1. Thank you for this memory, Yahya. Yes, he was always ready and willing to give an assessment or help to anyone who was interested. Play the way he taught you!
      Joyce

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