Monty Alexander – Love Notes: Jamaica to Jazz
@ Blue Note Jazz Club – Shows @ 8PM & 10:30PM (Doors @ 6PM & 9:45PM)
Pianist Monty Alexander is an American classic. At 74, he tours the world relentlessly with various projects, delighting a global audience drawn to his vibrant personality and soulful message. His spirited conception, documented on more than 70 CDs, draws upon the timeless verities: endless melody-making, effervescent grooves, sophisticated voicings, a romantic spirit, and a consistent predisposition, as Alexander says, “to build up the heat and kick up a storm.” In the course of any given performance, Alexander applies those aesthetics to repertoire spanning a broad range of jazz and Jamaican musical expression—the American songbook and the blues, gospel and bebop, calypso and reggae. Like his “eternal inspiration,” Erroll Garner, Alexander—cited as the fifth greatest jazz pianist ever in The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time (Hal Leonard Publishing) and mentioned in Robert Doerschuk’s 88: The Giants of Jazz Piano—gives the hardcore-jazz-obsessed much to dig into while also communicating the message to the squarest “civilian.”
Alexander is most widely known as an upper echelon master of the swinging piano trio function, as he has demonstrated with several top-shelf groups, including iconic units with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, and with the legendary bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis. The most recent demonstrations of his creative, charismatic trio sensibility are the percolating Uplift (2011-JLP) and Uplift 2 (2013-JLP), following the sublime 2008 albums, Calypso Blues: The Music of Nat King Cole and The Good Life: Monty Alexander Plays the Songs of Tony Bennett (Chesky). Also in 2008, Alexander was featured pianist on the Tony Bennett-Count Basie Orchestra, A Swinging Christmas.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Alexander also performs frequently with Harlem-Kingston Express, a double trio in which he coalesces his love for hard-swinging jazz with musical flavors that reflect his Jamaican heritage, shifting between an acoustic trio and master Jamaican practitioners of electric bass and drums. He debuted the project at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2009, and documented it both on the Grammy-nominated 2011 CD, Harlem-Kingston Express: LIVE, and its 2014 Soultrain Award nominated followup, Harlem Kingston Express 2: The River Rolls On (Motéma).
Alexander began playing in local Kingston clubs at 14, when he also made his first recordings, some as leader of a group called Monty and the Cyclones, others as a sideman for such legendary producers as Ken Khouri (Federal Records), Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), and Clement Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. These early sessions for Federal, which Alexander describes as “not calypso music, but the beginning of Ska,” included such subsequently famous talents as trombonist Don Drummond, tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso and guitarist Ernest Ranglin.
Alexander’s Jamaican roots also include witnessing the legendary singer-pianist Nat Cole in concert in 1953 at Kingston’s Carib Theater, an experience he regards as transformational, as was his participation in the 1991 CD Unforgettable, Natalie Cole’s 7-Grammy Award winning homage to her father. Other signposts include his performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with a full orchestra under the direction of Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, playing piano on the soundtrack of Bird (1988), Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic, and on Quincy Jones’ For Love Of Ivy (1968) film score.
In August 2000, the Jamaican government designated Alexander Commander In The Order Of Distinction for outstanding services to his homeland as a worldwide music ambassador. Furthermore, every Labor Day weekend since 2010, Alexander has served as Artistic Director at his namesake Monty Alexander Jazz festival in Easton, Maryland. About the festival the press said that the “MAJF has evolved over the last eight years into a very classy small town Jazz Festival and probably the best in the USA”.
“Even now, it’s one world of music for me,” Alexander says. “I try to remove all the lines. Even though I do this thing and that thing and the other thing, at the end of the day it’s Monty Alexander. I still seem to make people happy.”« Back to Events