Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College is thrilled to welcome Jamaican jazz virtuoso Monty Alexander to the Walt Whitman Theatre, performing his Grammy-nominated show Harlem-Kingston Express, on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Evoking not only the combination of two cities but also the high-powered excitement the band brings to the stage, the Harlem-Kingston Express is essentially two groups in one: a jazz group and a reggae group, with Monty Alexander straddling the two on piano as the common thread that holds them together. The end results work so well together that it would be pointless to determine what’s jazz and what’s reggae.
Recorded in 2010 at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center (augmented by a few selections from past performances overseas), Harlem Kingston Express: Live! was singled out by both the recording industry and fans. All About Jazz called the album “supremely joyful music (as could be expected given the sources) and an absolute joy to the ear.” Alexander and this unique album were celebrated with a Grammy Award nomination in 2012.
The music of Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! was orchestrated by Alexander and his band spontaneously in live performance. “It’s like a train going through Kingston – [in] the ‘60s and ‘70s – up to Harlem,” he said in a 2011 interview with The Jamaica Gleaner. “I bring these two things together.”
According to Alexander, it was the desire to bring together his Jamaican and Jazz roots that inspired the project. “I feel American and I feel Jamaican, and the rhythms that come from the street and the country in America are just as meaningful to me as the vibrations that come from Jamaica,” he said in an artistic statement for the album. “It’s like my left hand and my right hand… If I want to do this music and pick from the whole palette, I’m… going to bring the two rhythm sections together.”
Joining Mr. Alexander on stage for his Brooklyn concert will be Hassan Shakur (acoustic bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Earl Appleton (electric keyboards), Andy Bassford (guitar), Joshua Thomas (electric bass) and Karl Wright (drums).
About Monty Alexander
In a career spanning five decades, Alexander has built a reputation exploring and bridging the worlds of American jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica, finding in each a sincere spirit of musical expression. In the process, he has performed and recorded with artists from every corner of the musical universe and entertainment world: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Quincy Jones, Ernest Ranglin, Barbara Hendricks, Bill Cosby, Bobby McFerrin, Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare, among others.
Born on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Alexander took his first piano lessons at age six, although he is largely self-taught. As a teenager, he witnessed concerts by Louis Armstrong and Nat “King” Cole at Kingston’s Carib Theater. These artists had a profound effect on Alexander’s aspirations. He formed Monty and the Cyclones in the late 1950s and also recorded on sessions with the musicians who would catapult Jamaican music to international recognition as The Skatalites (Bob Marley’s first backing band).
In a radio interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Alexander talked about his youth. “When I left Jamaica for the first time in the early ‘60s, there was no such name [as reggae]. And they had just begun to label that other music ska, Jamaica ska, and I was one of the musicians playing on those early recordings. I was about 15 years old.”
Alexander and his family moved to the United States at the end of 1961. Less than two years later, while playing in Las Vegas with Art Mooney’s orchestra, he caught the eye of New York City club owner Jilly Rizzo and his friend, Frank Sinatra. Rizzo hired the young pianist to work in his club, Jilly’s, where he accompanied Sinatra and others. There he met Modern Jazz Quartet vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who hired him and eventually introduced him to former Charlie Parker collaborator and legendary bassist Ray Brown. Alexander recorded and performed with the two jazz giants on many occasions. Jazz’s greatest luminaries welcomed Alexander to their “musical fraternity” in the mid-1960s. Among these earliest enthusiasts for his playing were Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Miles Davis.
In his quest to fit in, his calypso roots took a back seat for the early portion of his career. “When you come from another place and you have a chance to get in with the folks of whatever avenue you’re going down… you’re trying to fit in, and in order to fit in, you have to leave your stuff behind,” he said in a 2012 interview.
After many years and visits back to his native Jamaica, Alexander began to incorporate sounds from his homeland into his music. “I left the calypso and the island rhythms behind me, but they were always there in the back of my brain,” Alexander says. “And years and years go by, and then I started to go back to Jamaica more frequently, and I realized how much I really loved home, and I started to bring back the roots rhythms,” he told National Public Radio.
Monty Alexander’s collaborations span multiple genres, styles, and generations. His projects have included assisting Natalie Cole in her tribute album to her father, Nat “King” Cole in 1991 (the resulting album, Unforgettable, won seven Grammy awards), performing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” under the direction of Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and recording the piano track for the film score of Clint Eastwood’s Bird, a movie about the life of jazz titan Charlie Parker.
In August 2000, the Jamaican government awarded Monty Alexander the title of Commander in the Order of Distinction for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador.
In Hal Leonard’s 2005 book The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time, Alexander was listed among the top five jazz pianists of all time.
Alexander maintains a rigorous touring schedule worldwide, playing in jazz clubs, concert halls and playing at international jazz festivals in the USA and across continents; from Europe to Asia; in Montreux, Switzerland; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; and Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, etc.
To date Monty Alexander has recorded over 70 albums as a leader. His collaboration with Telarc label yielded trio sessions (Impressions in Blue) and live concert recordings (Goin’ Yard). In the late summer of 2005, Alexander traveled to Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, and teamed up with Jamaican top session players to record Concrete Jungle, a set of twelve compositions penned by Bob Marley and reinterpreted via Alexander’s jazz piano-oriented arrangements. The resulting union of musical perspectives digs deep into the Marley legend and brings together the two worlds that Alexander most treasures, building the musical bridges that are the very essence of his craft. As a testament to his versatility, The Good Life (Chesky Records) is a collection of songs written and popularized by one of his all-time favorite artists and good friend, Tony Bennett. His second release on Chesky, Calypso Blues, is tribute to another one of his heroes, Nat “King” Cole.
In 2008, with the invitation of Wynton Marsalis, Alexander conceived and directed the acclaimed program Lords of the West Indies at Jazz at Lincoln Center, broadcast nationally on BETJ. Alexander returned to Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2009 with a new program, Harlem Kingston Express in which he merged classic Jazz with rhythms and vibrations of his native Jamaica.
In the winter of 2008, Tony Bennett personally invited Monty to record as the featured pianist on his Christmas album, A Swinging Christmas, with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Two collections were released in 2011 that capture the excitement of Monty Alexander’s live performances around the world: Uplift, a trio album on JLP Records, and Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! on Motema Music.
Between Uplift and Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! Monty Alexander dominated the US radio charts with three Number One spots in 2011, as not only Uplift remained at number 1 for several weeks but Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! rose to number 1 on Jazz charts and on World Music charts concurrently.
In the summer of 2012, Monty Alexander was awarded the prestigious German Jazz Trophy, “A Life for Jazz,” and in November 2012 he received the Caribbean American Heritage Luminary Award from the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington, D.C.
About his personal style, he once said “I have so many different directions that I can go in and make something out of it that I’m constantly being motivated by that. So my music is alive, it’s right now, it’s here and now. That’s it.”