Monty Alexander has converted me into his biggest fan. Last Saturday I attended my first true jazz concert. This being my first jazz concert, I was more skeptical than I was enthusiastic, as I made the decision to attend. As I sat there, however, in this full-to-capacity Bailey Hall in Davie, Florida, I heard every strum of the cello, the cymbal, the snare and the keyboard, plus the rap and rattle of the drum. The patience, skill, the confidence and artistry of the players were extraordinary. It was a striking contrast to the synthesized arrangements of today’s reggae music, that we have now come to expect. I guess Monty Alexander, being Jamaican, I also expected his music to be of this contemporary type.
Monty was my best introduction to Jazz. A proud Jamaican who migrated to Miami in the early 1960s with his parents, he now tours the world playing to massive audiences of Jazz lovers and a few newbies like me. His Jamaican infused style alleviated any of the uncertainties I previously had about this musical genre.
Monty’s opening selections fused jazz with early Jamaican Mento, Folklore and Reggae. He played redemption song by Bob Marley, a folklore medley including Linstead market and the theme song from James Bond movies 007. When he played “Marcus Garvey words come to pass” by Burning Spear, he also attempted to sing but gave the audience a reason to laugh as he pretended not to know the lyrics. During his rendition of “Ben” by Michael Jackson, you could hear a pin drop between each musical stanza; But the pandemonium at the conclusion of the song was more than I could have imagined.
Monty shared stories between sets of his early years as a musician specifically how he started his career as a Pianist. A club owner hired him to play in a popular Miami club and Duke Ellington helped him with his immigration status. He was later hired by Frank Sinatra and left Miami to work for Frank’s club Jillys in New York. He spoke humbly of being honored to play among the royalties of jazz including Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Ray Brown and Count Bassie. However, it all started at the Carib Theater in Kingston, Jamaica where he met his great heroes: Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong aka Sachmo, among others. “I shook the hand of Nat King Cole and I purposely didn’t wash my hands for a month” he confessed.
I am grateful I was invited to see this magnificent performance. This Likkle piece a rock Jamaica produces the most amazing human beings. Mi proud bag buss. I couldn’t help being one of the first to stand when the final song ended to a standing ovation and pandemonium.