For two weeks in late winter of this year at the Blue Note Jazz Club, pianist and bandleader Monty Alexander celebrated 50 years as an entertainer. He invited dear friends from his native Jamaica to the jazz world to help bring in this monumental occasion.
Monty isn’t just a well accomplished jazz pianist but he’s also one of the most respected and well sought reggae musicians in his native Jamaica. Recording and performing with many reggae artists like Ernest Ranglin, Sly and Robbie, and Beres Hammond.
He’s just come off his first Grammy-nominated Motema Records release “Harlem-Kingston Express Live!” for best Reggae Album. The Harlem-Kingston Express is the pianist’s foray into his musical youth while growing up in Kingston, Jamaica. While in Kingston, he witnessed and experienced the birth of Ska and Reggae music. The music was developed during the late 1950’s as an offshoot of ska, rhythm and blues, and mento. Monty heard American roots music like soul, blues, and gospel while listening to the early pioneers of reggae like Theophilus Beckford, The Wailers(featuring a young Bob Marley and Peter Tosh),and Millie Small. Monty’s disc is a mixture of all those influences while playing tributes to our jazz masters that hailed from Harlem like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.
To really understand Monty’s rich history of reggae and jazz, these two weeks at the Blue Note Jazz Club really showcased his rich history. Born on June 6th, 1944 in Kingston, Jamaica, began studying piano when he was six years old. As a child into his teens, Monty recorded with some reggaes’ up and coming artists. It was in his childhood that he and his family would listen to American radio stations and heard jazz music along with popular R & B. Monty also saw many of the jazz legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Nat “King” Cole while performing on the island. During his late teens his family moved to Miami and he followed them shortly after. He began playing in the local bars and clubs when one night club owner Jilly Rizzo and his best friend Frank Sinatra where they flew in to New York City where he was the club pianist at Jilly’s. It was there that he accompanied Mr. Sinatra and the many other legendary musical icons like Miles Davis to Milt Jackson. It was while he was in New York were he also got his chops as a session musician.
Monty’s first live recording “Uplift” on the Jazz Legacy Productions imprint, took years of live recordings that he had unreleased and let label founder and dear friend John Lee listen to the material. After an unprecedented first listen, Lee decided that this would be Monty’s debut disc for the label. “Uplift” features a dynamic rhythm section that includes Hassan Shakur on bass, and drummers Frits Landesbergen and Herlin Riley. The depth and range of material that was selected for the disc features classics like “Come Fly With Me,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “One Mint Julep.”
Both of these recordings from Monty will give listeners and his fans a multi-faceted scope of his range as a well-rounded musician. “Uplift” is a project that showcases the intimate piano trio that he’s been known for for the last 50 years.
His two weeks at the Blue Note was both a humbling and exciting time for Monty in that he shared the bandstand as a soloist and paying respect to the musicians he’s accompanied throughout his 50 years in the business. Every night was a different music theme that showcased the many talents of Mr. Alexander. One night was the ’76 Montreux Trio Reunion with John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton. Monty’s tribute to Jilly’s Jazz Club with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and Freddy Cole with guitarist Russell Malone. Other special guests that played with Monty over the two weeks included Christian McBride, Robbie Shakespeare, Shaggy, Pat Martino, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Diana King, Kevin Spacey, and Diana Kroll.
To find out Monty’s upcoming club and festival dates, or to order both of his discs, visit him on the web at montyalexander.com. Monty’s record label websites are jazzlegacyproductions.com and motema.com.
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