Monty Alexander Jazz and Roots Ensemble with Dean
@ The Gaiety on Rodney Bay, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
5 May 2009
Click an image to enlarge.
Monty Alexander was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He began
piano lessons at the age of six. As a youngster he would sit in
and listen to the many jazz musicians who worked in nightclubs and
hotels in the area. He was fortunate to be able to witness performances
from the likes of Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.
Alexander went on to form the group Monty and the Cyclones. Between
1958-1960 the group scored many hits in the Jamaican charts. Alexander
went to the United States towards the tail end of 1961, where he
would be successful at landing himself a gig with Art Mooney’s
orchestra in Las Vegas. Alexander would soon progress to work for
New York City club owner Jilly Rizzo, as the house pianist. This
position would see him accompany many performers such as Frank Sinatra.
Alexander continued to impress listeners and further meetings and
collaborations were born. He would go on to work with Dizzy Gillespie,
Clark Terry, and Sonny Rollins.
Alexander’s growth and collaborations have continued throughout
his prolific career. In 1991 he worked with Natalie Cole on her
tribute album to her father, Nat “King” Cole. The album
Unforgettable won seven Grammy awards. In 1993, he performed at
Carnegie Hall in a tribute to the great jazz pianist Erroll Garner.
In August 1996, Alexander performed George Gershwin's “Rhapsody
in Blue” with a full symphony orchestra directed by Bobby
McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. By the end of that
same year, he had recorded nearly sixty CDs under his own name,
and was frequently performing at leading festivals and music venues
such as the Montreux Jazz Festival.
To date he has worked with a remarkably diverse number of artists
from around the globe such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ernst
Ranglin Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins and many more.
The review below was written for Monty Alexander’s 2005
Ronnie Scott’s performance, however, though the location has
changed, most the content still applies to his 2009 St. Lucia Jazz
performance. Just add the heat and passion of the Caribbean…
Monty Alexander is a warm, down to earth individual. I could sense
his sincerity as he shook my hand and reassured me that “I
could take as many photographs as I liked!”
If all musicians were as accommodating, I’m sure that my few
grey hairs would have stayed ‘being a few’ Unfortunately
I’ll soon be reaching for that hair dye!
Alexander’s’ open nature transfers naturally to the
piano and is clearly evident within his own compositions, as well
as jazz standards. He adds his own unmistakable fluent, colourful
signature to every note. He is able to feed from the rich culture
the Caribbean offers, and then translate this into his own music.
Alexander’s communication through the keys is direct and authoritative,
yet graceful. In fact I felt a little sorry for his piano in a sense,
as I could imagine his piano crying out for a break every time he
unleashed wave-after-wave of sheer mesmerising multi-textured magic.
Alexander not only uses all eighty-eight keys to great effect,
he is also able to infuse many musical styles of the Caribbean and
beyond. It is refreshing to be able to feel the eclectic passions
and heat of the Caribbean in the heart of London, but to be able
to taste it is sheer heaven. Alexander’s classical and jazzy
spirit is also very much alive and kicking. From when the very fist
hammer hits the strings, his playful and witty approach had us all
eating from the ‘tips of his fingers’. Compositions
such as “Trust” highlight his excellent use of chord
progression and key changes, at one point seamlessly fusing Billy
Taylor’s “I wish I knew (How it Would Feel To Be Free)”
to this delightful melody. “Consider” has a delightful
airy classical feel, again highlighting his unique approach to the
dramatic chord structure.
Monty Alexander has many interests outside music. One of them is
professional boxing (not as a contender) but as a spectator. We
briefly shared memories of the boxing greats of the mid 90’s
at the end of his gig. I conceded instantly, as his knowledge greatly
outweighed mine on many counts!
I was travel weary, as well as a little ‘gig weary’
upon arrival at Ronnie Scott’s tonight. In my own humble opinion
every doctor or therapist in touch with alternative medicines should
be able to prescribe ‘Monty Alexander Trio’ for such
ailments. Alexander’s music is one of the best tonics I have
had to date.
Monty Alexander - piano, Herlin Riley - drums
Hassan Shakur - double bass
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.