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Monty Alexander on Jamento
An original composition, released on the 1978 album (Pablo) of the same name; this was recorded in a Connecticut state park in the fall of 1984 and broadcast in 1985 by Bravo on the program ‘Jazz Counterpoint w/Billy Taylor’.
Montgomery Bernard “Monty” Alexander (born 6 June 1944) is a Jamaicanjazz pianist. His playing has a Caribbean influence and bright swinging feeling, with a strong vocabulary of bebop jazz and blues rooted melodies. He was influenced by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, and Frank Sinatra. Alexander also sings and plays the melodica.
He is known for his surprising musical twists, bright rhythmic sense, and intense dramatic musical climaxes. Monty’s recording career has covered many of the well known American songbook standards, jazz standards, pop hits, and Jamaican songs from his original homeland. Alexander has resided in New York City for many years and performs frequently throughout the world at jazz festivals and clubs.
Alexander was born on 6 June 1944 in Kingston, Jamaica. He discovered the piano when he was four years old and seemed to have a knack for picking melodies out by ear. His mother sent him to classical music lessons at the age of six and he became interested in jazz piano at the age of 14. He began playing in clubs, and on recording sessions by Clue J & His Blues Blasters, subbing for Aubrey Adams, whom he describes as his hero, when he was unable to play.
Two years later, he directed a dance orchestra (Monty and the Cyclones) and played in the local clubs covering much of the 1960s early rock and pop dance hits. Performances at the Carib Theater in Jamaica by Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole left a strong impression on the young pianist.
Alexander and his family moved to Miami, Florida, in 1961, where he played in various nightclubs. One night Monty was brought to the attention of Frank Sinatra and Frank’s friend Jilly Rizzo. They were there to see the act in the next room, a Sinatra imitator. Somebody suggested they also check out the kid playing piano in the front room bar, “He’s swinging the room pretty good” they said.
Thus, Monty was invited to New York City in 1962 to become the house pianist for Jilly Rizzo‘s night club and restaurant simply called “Jilly’s.” In addition to performing with Frank Sinatra there, Alexander also met and became friends with bassist Ray Brown and vibist Milt Jackson. He also became friendly with Miles Davis, both men sharing a love of watching boxing matches.
In Los Angeles, in 1964, Alexander recorded his first album, Alexander the Great, for Pacific Jazz at the age of 20. The album was very energetic and upbeat with the climax tune being “Blues for Jilly”.
Alexander recorded with Milt Jackson in 1969, with Ernest Ranglin in 1974 and in Europe the same year with Ed Thigpen. He toured regularly in Europe and recorded there, mostly with his classic trio for MPS Records. He also toured around 1976 with the steelpan player Othello Molineaux.
In the mid-1970s he formed a group consisting of John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums, creating a stir on the jazz-scene in Europe. Their most famous collaboration is Montreux Alexander, recorded during the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1976.
A year later in 1977 Alexander recorded again with Milt Jackson on the LP called Soul Fusion. Jackson used Alexander’s trio (with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, future big-band co-leaders) for the Pablo recorded LP which was later issued on CD through Original Jazz Classics. Much of the material is obscure (including Jackson’s three originals), with Stevie Wonder‘s “Isn’t She Lovely” being the only jazz standard on the album.
Alexander has also played with several singers such as Ernestine Anderson, Mary Stallings and other important leaders (Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Jimmy Griffin and Frank Morgan). In his successive trios, he has played frequently with musicians associated with Oscar Peterson: Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Mads Vinding, Ed Thigpen and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
Alexander formed a reggae band in the 1990s, featuring all Jamaican musicians. He has released several reggae albums, including Yard Movement (1996), Stir It Up (1999, a collection of Bob Marley songs), Monty Meets Sly & Robbie (2000), and Goin’ Yard (2001). He collaborated again with Ranglin in 2004 on the album Rocksteady.
Alexander married the American jazz guitarist Emily Remler in 1981. They divorced in 1985. Alexander is currently married to Italian jazz singer Caterina Zapponi.
Awards and honors
- Musgrave Medal, Institute of Jamaica, 2000
- Best Live Performance Album, Independent Music Awards, Harlem-Kingston Express, 2012
- Grammy-nominated 2011 CD, Harlem-Kingston Express
- 2014 Soul Train Award-nominated followup, Harlem-Kingston Express, Vol. 2: The River Rolls On, both released on Motéma Records