Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1948, Andy McCloud III grew up in nearby East Orange. The first song he ever learned, “Moody’s Mood for Love;” he was all of four years old. At seven he picked up the clarinet; by junior high he’d switched to baritone sax. When he entered high school, he started singing with a doo-wop group. They needed a backup band, but the bass player wasn’t cutting it. So Andy, who’d been fooling with his uncle’s bass, stepped into the breach. He made such rapid progress that his uncle gave him the bass when he turned 16. Listening a lot to Art Blakey and Horace Silver, he and some high school pals formed a jazz quartet, the Cosmopolitans. They started picking up gigs and winning competitions, then grew to an octet using Andy’s first arrangements.
In college in Minnesota, Andy formed another band. Minnesota back then was a little short on jazz gigs, so Andy played a lot of polkas for three years.
On Andy’s return to New Jersey for graduate work at Rutgers, one of the Cosmopolitans hooked him up with Ocho, one of the best salsa bands across the river from New York. Andy wrote his first tunes for Ocho and played with them for three years, until he left for New York. In New York, he joined the burgeoning loft scene and got serious about a career in jazz. He worked with loft scene stalwarts like Bobby Battle, Carter Jefferson, Greg Bandy and Donald Smith. Jimmy Garrison became Andy’s mentor and he continued his studies with the Jazzmobile crowd, playing with Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Heath and Sonny Redd.
Hanging out at Ali’s Alley, Frank Foster liked his playing so much he took him into his band, the Loud Minority, for the next couple of years. At the same time he was playing with Pharaoh Sanders, Hannibal and Sonny Fortune—and, notably, with Mary Lou Williams who proved to be a great teacher. In 1977 Frank recommended Andy to Elvin Jones; they hit it off so well that Andy played with Elvin for five years, making eight records with him.
In the early ‘80s, Andy started picking up gigs with Clifford Jordan, Arthur Blythe and Don Pullen (who became his mentor in the avant garde). Since then, Andy has freelanced with people like McCoy Tyner and Dizzy Gillespie. He put in three years with Jon Hendricks and then nine years (up through 1998) with Hilton Ruiz. Andy’s also toured with shows like Black and Blue and Dinah. He’s played on 44 records and CDs.