Theatre Performances - Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones - A Celebration
Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones - A Celebration
Showtime: Saturday, December 9, 2017
Location: Hammerson Hall
Tickets: $75.00 - $150.00 (HST included, service fees extra)
Join us as we celebrate The Living Arts Centre's 20th Anniversary and Canada's 150th with celebrating Canada's greatest Jazz legend Mr. Oscar Peterson, and pay tribute to our living Jazz icon Mr. Oliver Jones.
Curated by Frank Francis, Trane Studio & Caliban Arts
LAC celebrates Oscar and Oliver features an incredible All Star line up of Grammy, Juno, Emmy and other International Awards recipients. The lists of artists include greats Monty Alexander, Marc Cary, Casey Benjamin, D.D. Jackson, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Robi Botos, Brandi Disterheft, and Ron Westray to name only a few. This is a program not to be missed. Be sure to secure your tickets early, this will be a sold out event!
John is a musician and actor with professional experience on stage, in film, on television and radio. He was the male narrator for The Globe and Mail’s Facts and Arguments podcasts, also the Dear Sweetheart series featuring letters home from a Canadian soldier overseas during WWI, and did voice work for a short film feature in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s Titanic celebrations series.
He has contributed to major art installations in Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, The Encampment installation in Ottawa’s Major’s Hill Park and was project coordinator for the public art piece, The Community Totem, in Toronto’s Cy Townsend Park. John was on the inaugural Wychwood Barns Community Association Board of Directors and continues to be active in social and developmental service sectors.
John loves radio, loves to connect with and engage with people and find out what makes them tick and how they are inspired. He loves music, and all of its diverse genres, having been introduced at an early age in a dynamically musical family.
Share your evenings from 6PM to 9PM, Monday to Friday, with John Devenish, the Dinner Jazz host on JAZZ.FM91.
Montréal born Oliver Jones made his debut as a pianist at age five at Union United Church, and by the time he had his first nightclub appearance, he was nine. In his 77 year career he has released an impressive 23 albums (and one DVD). He has been recognized with numerous awards including the Order of Québec; he was appointed an officer of the Order of
Canada and is also the proud recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr award. In 2013 Dr. Jones was honored with a stamp in his likeness as part of the Canada Post stamp program paying tribute to black history. A veteran of life on the road – he has toured extensively throughout Canada, appearing at festivals, concerts and clubs, either as a solo artist or with his trio. His travels also took him to the United States, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and his tour of Nigeria was the subject of a 1990 National Film Board of Canada documentary, Oliver Jones in Africa.
In early 2016 Oliver announced his plans to retire from performing professionally after one last cross country tour of Canada. His very last show was in Barbados in January 2017 as a tribute to his parents.
"It's been seventy-seven years and I guess that's more than enough time working any job, but it's always been my contention I should play until that feeling is gone but the feeling is still there," says Jones but he can no longer play at the same capacity, though Jones says he still plans on performing a few times a year. His retirement plans include travelling, dusting off his saxophone and helping to promote Canadian jazz artists who are just getting started.
In a career filled with superlative achievements, Oliver Jones remains one of Canada's finest musicians.
Professor Ron Westray’s professional contributions encompass a stunning list of achievements in the areas of performance, composition, recording, and publishing. Since the early nineties
He has performed as trombonist or lead trombonist with the most prestigious jazz ensembles in the world, including the Mingus Big Band, New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The Wynton Marsalis Septet, Irving Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and the Marcus Roberts Ensemble, in hundreds of
performances around the globe. His compositions for jazz big band, jazz orchestra and smaller jazz ensembles range from original works to arrangements and/or adaptations of pre-existing works, some published by Walrus Music Publishing, some through his own company Wooden Flute Publishing. Jazz @ Lincoln Center has commissioned two of Westray’s works: Chivalrous Misdemeanors (selected tales from Cervante’s Don Quixote) funded through a grant from the Greenwald Foundation (via JALC), receiving a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and the jazz suite Scenes in the City: The Music of Charles Mingus. Westray is associated in a variety of roles on recordings for more than a dozen labels: as leader, producer, performer, composer, arranger, or in combination.
RON WESTRAY has held the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York University in Toronto since 2009. Ron is a prodigious composer and arranger of music for ensembles of various sizes. Westray got his start in jazz touring with the Marcus Roberts septet in the early 1990s. He has been featured on all of
Roberts’ large ensemble recordings since that time. Westray went on to become lead trombonist and
arranger in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a position that he held for 12 years before entering academia via the faculty at the University of Texas in Austin in 2005. Westray is a role model and mentor for younger musicians world-wide.
“Ron Westray has such a pure, deep, rich sound on the trombone—it’s just beautiful. He is a very charismatic performer who plays with tremendous precision, virtuosity, and soul.” - Marcus Roberts
“She is what we call serious.” –Oscar Peterson
Jazz contrabassist, singer, composer, Brandi Disterheft, has captivated audiences in Canada, Europe, Japan, China, Haiti and even the coveted Carnegie Hall. It’s not only her fiery bass playing that make audiences stand-up and holler, but also her innovative live shows as she sings in both English and French showcasing her ambient and dreamy voice. Winning a JUNO for her “Debut” album (Superfran Records), Brandi is currently signed to Montreal’s Justin Time Records with whom she had the honor of recording with icons Oliver Jones and Hank Jones on the album “Pleased to Meet You” that earned a Grammy in 2011.
A featured soloist with the Canada’s Pops Orchestra at just the age of 21, Brandi began performing in her teens with her mother, a Chicago-born pianist and B3 Organist. Having been under the apprenticeship of Miles Davis’ bassist, Ron Carter, since she relocated to NYC, she has since also recorded with Benny Green on Anne’s Drummond’s album “Revolving” and Cyrus Chestnut and Jeremy Pelt on Vincent Herring’s albums “Uptown Shuffle” and “Night and Day.”
This promising talent from the north is currently touring her forth album “Blue Canvas” featuring an all-star New York City line-up with jazz master Harold Mabern and the great Joe Farnsworth. In her eloquent liner notes, the multi-talented musician reminds us of the Muses of Ancient Greece philosophized by Plato, and how these Gods and Godesses would lead the artist into a state of ecstasy. And such are the feelings that lead her to state that: “This album tells a story about that escape to freedom and the unyielding feeling of coming alive.”
Hungarian born Romani/ Musician Robi Botos was raised in a musical family and is largely self-taught. Robi began his musical career when he was a child, growing up in Budapest, playing drums and percussion. It was at age seven when Robi first took up piano - it quickly became apparent that this would be an instrument Robi would truly connect with. Robi immigrated to Canada in 1998 and is now a permanent resident of the country he calls home with his wife and children.
Shortly after coming to Canada, Robi caught the ear of Canadian Jazz great Oscar Peterson and quickly became his protégé. To this day, Robi remains a disciple of Dr. Peterson’s mighty sense of swing and technical virtuosity. Along with this influence, Robi possesses a deep tradition in Romani, Hungarian and European Folk and Classical music. This fusion of North American Bebop, Hard Bop, and Modern Jazz along with the deep tradition of Folk music in Eastern Europe and Romantic Classical music, has formulated a sound and approach that is formidable and unsurpassed. Many of Jazz’s greatest musicians consider Robi to be one of the few young leaders on the piano worldwide. Musicians from Branford Marsalis to Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, and many more consider Robi to be one of the greats on the instrument.
Robi’s dynamic live performances have earned him international recognition – winning numerous competitions around the world including first prizes at the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition in 2004, third Prize at the Martial Solal Piano Competition in Paris in 2006, and first prize at the Great American Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida in 2008. Robi has been nominated for two Juno Awards and won as a part of Mike Downes’ Trio in 2014. At the National Jazz Awards in 2007 Robi was chosen as Keyboardist of the Year, and in 2007 Robi was awarded Best Jazz Artist from NOW Magazine. Robi’s debut album for A440 Entertainment/Universal Music Canada, ‘Place to Place’, was one of the most anticipated Canadian jazz albums of 2011. In 2012, Robi and his trio, with bassist Mike Downes and drummer Morgan Childs, won the coveted TD Grand Jazz Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival. This award led to a main stage outdoor concert presentation in front of over 5,000 people, and a subsequent invitation to headline their own outdoor concert in 2013.
In June of 2012, Robi was invited by the Edmonton Jazz Festival to open for the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. Canada Council helped support this important concert, which led to a friendship with both Wayne Shorter and his pianist Danilo Perez.
In 2013, Robi was involved in two film projects that were significant in his career. The first was the Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon film ‘Arbitrage’, which was nominated for a Golden Globe, and Robi performed the closing scene and end credit recording for the movie. Robi also wrote the score for the Producer Guild Awards nominated ‘A People Uncounted’ which documents the struggles and the rich artistry of the Romani people.
In early March of 2013, Robi was involved in a special commemorative concert to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the legendary Oscar Peterson album, ‘Night Train’. This concert occurred in Oscar’s hometown of Montreal and featured Robi leading the trio with former Oscar Peterson band mates, Order of Canada recipient Dave Young on bass and Alvin Queen on drums. This trio (with Order of Canada recipient Terry Clarke on drums) embarked on a second tour in November 2013, playing in Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Robi has accompanied many great jazz musicians and vocalists in the Canadian music scene for years. One of them is Juno winner, Order of Canada and former CBC Radio host, Molly Johnson. Robi has played in Molly’s bands for over seven years now and tours with her internationally, including recent tours of Japan and France.
A little over a year ago, Robi recorded his second album for A440 Entertainment, ‘Movin’ Forward’. This album features a dream-team rhythm section of Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums and Robert Hurst on bass, with the great Canadian (and New York-based) saxophonist Seamus Blake on tenor, soprano saxophones, and EWI. Jeff and Robert are Grammy-Award winning musicians who are regarded amongst the great bass-drum jazz rhythm sections in Jazz history, having recorded in the seminal quartets of both Branford and Wynton Marsalis in the 1980s and 1990s, leading the resurgence of the ‘young lion’ comeback of Jazz music. Movin’ Forward features a mix of originals, Roma-influenced songs as well as funky grooves, and straight-ahead swing compositions. The album is releasing in Canada on March 24th and will be supported by a short tour in late March with the album band of Seamus, Bob and Jeff. In the Summer of 2015, Robi will be travelling Canada on a three week tour, playing original music from his album release, mixed with songs from his debut album, and classic standards.
GRAMMY® award-winning Casey Benjamin is the first original member of the Robert Glasper Experiment. Through his melodic ingenuity on the vocoder, textual mastery on the keytar and spiky virtuosity on the alto, soprano and tenor saxophone, Benjamin gives the Experiment on its most defining sounds that has enable it to gain international acclaim in the jazz, R&B and hip-hop scenes on such trailblazing as Black Radio (Blue Note Records, 2012) and Black Radio 2 (Blue Note Records, 2013).
In addition to the Experiment, Benjamin toured with singer Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy) and has work with a string of other stellar musicians that include jazz greats – singer Betty Carter, bassist Derrick Hodge, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, bassist Victor Bailey, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Buster Williams; hip-hop artists – Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Busta’ Rhymes, Diddy, Heavy D, Consequence, DJ Logic and Wyclef Jean; R&B/Pop singers – Anderson Paak, Solange, Bilal, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé; and Black Rock Coalition gurus – Vernon Reid and Melvin Gibbs. With singer and songwriter Nicky Guiland, Benjamin co-leads the funk-forward combo, HEAVy, which has released three discs –HEAVy (Kindred Spirits, 2000), Jazz Money$$ (BBE, 2007) and First Sessions (Kindred Spirits, 2008).
Born in 1978, Benjamin grew up listening to music in his South Jamaica Queens, New York home. He started playing the saxophone when he was 8-years-old and continued his studies at the Harlem School of the Arts and Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art. Benjamin complemented his early jazz studies by attending pianists Barry Harris’ Jazz Workshops and Dr.
Billy Taylor’s Jazzmobile. As a young kid growing up in Jamaica Queens, also afforded Benjamin contact with musicians involved in the bustling Jamaica Funk crew – bassist Marcus Miller, trumpeter Tom Browne, and keyboardists Bernard Wright, Donald Blackman, Ozell Miller and Weldon, Irvine Jr.
After graduating from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, Benjamin attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, where he met Robert Glasper in 1997. Glasper played piano on Benjamin’s demo for Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program. Benjamin and Glasper collaborated formally in 2004 with the first edition of the Robert Glasper Experiment, which played its first gig at New York City’s Knitting Factory. Although Benjamin remains a charter member of the Robert Glasper Experiment, he’s working on his forthcoming solo project.
Jazz pianist, keyboardist, producer and composer Marc Cary holds tight to his roots in Washington, D.C.’s go-go music scene, but they represent only one element among the myriad. Cary’s interests run from Indian classical to Malian music to hip-hop. He started his career working with Betty Carter, a legendary vocalist famous for drawing soul and sincerity out of her bands, and went on to work with Roy Hargrove, Dizzy Gillespie, Erykah Badu, Shirley Horn, Stefon Harris, Q-Tip and – most influential of all – Abbey Lincoln.
Cary’s For the Love of Abbey (2013) is his first solo piano record, and possibly his most intimate. Covering 10 of Lincoln’s songs, and offering three original tunes in tribute to her, Cary conjures a shimmering, timeless aura that bespeaks the spiritual and artistic lessons that the late singer conferred upon him.
“I went to Abbey’s house and watched her play the piano and sing these songs,” Cary remembers. “She could play any song but she was a very minimal player. Maybe the melody note and a couple other notes. That was how she would hear it, and I always had to think about it like that when I played.” On the solo disc, the challenge was to apply her focus on peaceful, unadorned melody within a lush habitat of pianistic harmony.
Critics agree that Cary has achieved a remarkable balance. JazzTimes calls the album “a moving love letter to one of his mentors,” and says “For the Love of Abbey shimmers and soars.” CriticalJazz.com gave the record five stars, arguing that it “successfully transform[s] the work of his friend and mentor into a personal statement with deep spiritual and emotional content.”
Marc Cary was born in New York City in 1967, but moved to D.C. as a young child. Growing up in a neglected city during the 1970s and ’80s, it was easy to run into trouble – but music remained a steadying force. At 14 he joined the High Integrity Band, a group that practiced the native D.C. art form of go-go, a dance music blending funk, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean drumming and traditional call-and-response elements. With the help of a city-run public arts program, Let ’Em Play, he learned jazz piano from some of D.C.’s most esteemed musicians and performed professionally during summers.
For high school Cary attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and played in the Dizzy Gillespie Youth Orchestra, based at the storied D.C. jazz club Blues Alley. When Cary took a standout solo during a performance of “A Night in Tunisia,” it caught the ear of Gillespie himself, and from then on the trumpet legend let Cary sit in whenever his band came through D.C.
A fledgling Cary soon came under the wing of that group’s pianist, Walter Davis, Jr., who encouraged him to move to New York City. And after two years of studying at the University of the District of Columbia under the tutelage of renowned trombonist and educator Calvin Jones, Cary did relocate in 1988. Within months of arriving in the jazz capital, he was playing in bands led by Arthur Taylor, Mickey Bass and Betty Carter, all major figures from jazz’s mid-century heyday.
At the same time, he quickly befriended and started working with Q-Tip, the famed emcee from A Tribe Called Quest; members of the Wu Tang Clan; and other prominent hip-hop musicians. (Cary produced and played keyboards on much of The Renaissance, Q-Tip’s Grammy-nominated solo album.) His longtime interest in dance music – stemming from his love for go-go and the music of the African Diaspora – eventually led Cary to reach past even hip-hop; he started collaborating with world-renowned house musicians like Louie Vega and Joe Claussell, both of whom traded remixes with Cary of each other’s songs.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, Cary stayed on the road with Carter for two and a half years, becoming one of the vocalist’s longest-serving pianists. In 1991, he left to join trumpet phenom Roy Hargrove’s band. Cary remembers that that group’s music was viewed as representing “a monumental leap for the young bands in jazz. We made an impact right after Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard. It was coming from a more urban perspective, but still swinging.”
He went on to perform with the Abraham Burton Quartet, then rejoined Betty Carter, and finally ended up alongside Abbey Lincoln. “Going from Betty to Abbey was like going from the street to the theater,” Cary says. With Lincoln, “you had to have that same skill as you needed with Betty, but it was supposed to allow you to not have to do any of the kinds of things Betty always demanded.” From Lincoln he learned the power of simplicity, focus and soul-baring musical poetry.
In 1995, Cary released his debut, Cary On, a striking record that introduced his songwriting talents with grooving originals like “The Vibe” and “So Gracefully.” The album featured an all-star cast including Hargrove and saxophonist Ron Blake. He followed it with 1997’s Listen, then The Antidote in 1998 – both strong displays of Cary’s developing skills as a broad-minded pianist and bandleader. Trillium, released in 1999, found Cary working with longtime collaborators Nasheet Waits on drums and Tarus Mateen on bass (the rhythm section tht would soon become the foundation of Jason Moran’s award-winning Bandwagon trio). On Trillium, the only official document of the Cary-Mateen-Waits trio, they pummel past the blues, playing with joy, conviction and heavy-stepping strength over originals and covers of tunes by Miles Davis and Duke Pearson.
All the while, Cary had been working on a pair of electronic music projects. In 1998, he released a limited-edition LP, titled Indigenous Music, on Claussell’s Ibadan label. The record finds Cary pairing his production skills with live percussion and horns, all in servoce of electric refractions of West African and Caribbean grooves. He followed that album with a project called Rhodes Ahead: Vol. 1, on which he welds his interest in ambient music with his dance roots, doing it all through the lens of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. It was a revolutionary record, and it contributed directly to Cary winning BET’s first-ever Best New Jazz Artist award the following year.
Also in 1999, Cary released his first record with Indigenous People, a new project building on the Indigenous Music album and uniting his love for go-go, hip-hop, Native American, jazz, house and West African music. On Captured: Live in Brazil, the band’s extended improvisations never get in the way of an infectious dance sensibility. Indigenous People toured extensively internationally and went on to release two more strong, danceable albums: Unite in 2001 and N.G.G.R. Please in 2003.
By the mid-2000s, Cary had developed a new jazz trio with an intimate rapport. He called it the Focus Trio, and it featured David Ewell on bass and Sameer Gupta on drums and tablas. With this group Cary found a new way to juxtapose his improvisational calmness and equipoise with a pulsing urgency and a sense of searching.
He has kept that curiosity and quest for peace at the forefront of his work with the trio, which released exploratory live albums in 2008 and 2009. And the same spirit has permeated his other projects, from For the Love of Abbey to Cosmic Indigenous. The latest incarnation of the Indigenous People ensemble, Cosmic Indigenous blends Indian classical, go-go and Malian music to form an infectious, danceable, electronically throbbing whole. As a sideman, Cary continues to tour with Stefon Harris, Cindy Blackman, Will Calhoun and other preeminent jazz musicians.
In pondering his future in the music, he reflects: “I used to ride motorcycles. There’s a point where you are at the mercy of the bike – you jump over something, you’re in the air, you don’t know what’s going to happen. But you enjoy the whole thing without anticipating. You just react to it. I will have accomplished my goal as a musician, to this point, if I can reach that.”
The prairie sky, expansive and wide, covers a great deal of North American real estate. And of all the emotions contained therein, it’s the prairie blues, a rural feeling that sings louder than all others on Dione Taylor’s new EP Born Free.
Music has always been an integral part of Dione Taylor’s life. A pastor’s daughter from Saskatchewan, she was born and raised in a family she describes as very connected to the gift of song. "My whole family sings and plays instruments in church,” praises Ms. Taylor, who began playing the organ at age four and by ten was the music director and organist at The Shiloh Assembly Apostolic Church in Regina.
Coming full circle, Dione finds herself reconnecting with her childhood. “The sounds and music of my youth are all present on Born Free. From the gospel music at church to the southern country gospel at home on the record player, it’s all in there!” This Juno‐nominated, soulful, powerful Canadian singer/songwriter released Born Free in late November 2015. This is a narrative of trial and faith told through a passionate blend of fiery gospel vocals with sounds from the delta blues.“The word gospel means ‘truth.’ I sing and write songs inspired by the journeys and real‐life stories of Black Canadians throughout history.”
Having first burst onto the music scene with her Juno‐nominated debut album Open Your Eyes, Taylor’s career trajectory has been remarkable. With performances at festivals and concert theatres across the North America and Asia for audiences that have included the President of the United States and Queen Elizabeth II, she has made a worthy name for herself as one of this country’s most talented artists. Dione was nominated for a Gemini Award for her rendition of Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom,” which she performed alongside Oliver Jones at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala.
For more information please visit: www.dionetaylor.com
Fifty-five years after he moved to the United States from Kingston, Jamaica, his home town, pianist Monty Alexander is an American classic, touring the world relentlessly with various projects, delighting a global audience drawn to his vibrant personality and soulful message. His spirited conception is one informed by the timeless verities: endless melody-making, effervescent grooves, sophisticated voicings, a romantic spirit, and a consistent predisposition, as Alexander accurately states, “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.”
Born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Alexander was playing Christmas carols by ear at 4, entertaining neighbors and relatives by 5, taking his first piano lessons at 6. He resisted formal instruction, but still, growing up in Kingston, absorbed all the musical flavors that comprise his mature sonic palette. “I soaked up everything—the calypso band playing at the swimming pool in the country, local guys at jam sessions who wished they were Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, a dance band playing Jamaican melodies, songs that Belafonte would have sung,” he recalls. When Alexander was 9, his father, a Kingston merchant, brought him to hear and play for the legendary pianist Eddie Heywood. At 10, he saw Nat “King” Cole play at Kingston’s Carib Theater, the same venue where, at 13, he heard a concert featuring Louis Armstrong.
“I had one foot in the jazz camp and the other in the old-time folk music,” Alexander says. “One was not more valuable than the other. Boogie-woogie was important to me, too. I’d sit at the piano and think I was the Count Basie Orchestra or a rhythm-and-blues band. I automatically reached for anything I wanted to play on the piano, and just played it. It didn’t come with practicing. It came with playing, playing, playing all the time.”
By 14, Alexander began to display his skills in local clubs. Soon thereafter, he made his first recordings, both as leader of a group called Monty and the Cyclones, and as a sideman for such legendary producers as Ken Khouri (Federal Records), Duke Reade (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
aspirants of the day as trombonist Don Drummond, tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso and guitarist Ernest Ranglin.
But after moving to Miami with his mother in 1961, Alexander would sublimate Jamaican roots towards establishing a jazz identity. By 1963, he was ensconced in New York City, with a steady gig at Jilly’s, the eponymous West 52nd Street piano bar owned by Frank Sinatra’s close friend Jilly Rizzo. There, for the next four years, Alexander’s trio swung until the wee hours of the morning for Sinatra, a mix of celebrity entertainers, tough guys, thrill seekers, and such iconic jazzfolk as Miles Davis, Count Basie, Milt Jackson, and Roy Haynes. As the 1960s progressed, he also held regular gigs at Minton’s (the iconic Harlem lounge where bebop gestated) and at the Playboy Club, where he met and became friends with Quincy Jones. During these years, he also met Ray Brown and piano giant Oscar Peterson, who recommended Alexander to Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, the proprietor of Germany’s MPS label, for which he made a dozen records between 1971 and 1985.
Alexander’s discography already included five leader LPs when he made his first MPS recording in 1971, with bassist Eugene Wright, drummer Duffy Jackson and conguero Montego Joe. By 1977, when Alexander made the tenth of his twelve sessions for MPS (Estate), he was internationally recognized as an upper-echelon master, deeply influenced by Brown’s “let’s party all night” approach to the piano trio function, as documented on two early ’70s dates with Wright and drummer Bobby Durham (We’ve Only Just Begun and Perception) and another two with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton (The Way It Is and Montreux Alexander), then rising stars, with whom he spent, by his estimate, 300 days a year on the road during their 1976-1978 association.
On most of his other MPS recordings, Alexander shared solo and ensemble duties with Ranglin, including the still-sampled groove albums Rass and Cobilimbo, on which he explicitly explored Jamaican folk roots. He did the same on Jamento (1978), his second of three recordings for Norman Granz’s Pablo label, which introduced his “ivory and steel” concept of “marrying” steel pan (Vince Charles) and hand-drums (Larry McDonald) “to whatever bass player and drummer I had at the time.” He would repeat this instrumentation on the 1980 album Ivory and Steel (Concord), with Othello Molineaux on pans and Bobby Thomas on congas, and again in 1988 on Jamboree (Concord).
That said, most of Alexander’s 15 Concord recordings between 1978 and 1996 presented him in swinging trio contexts—five dates on which Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis reprised the roles they played with Oscar Peterson’s drummerless trio of the ’50s; effervescent sessions with Brown and drummers Hamilton or Frank Gant; a reunion with Clayton and Hamilton; a meeting with Clayton and ex-Peterson drummer Ed Thigpen titled The River that addressed spirituals and hymns (it was played at Jilly Rizzo’s funeral); another project on which bassist John Patitucci and drummer Troy Davis flow through repertoire that Alexander played at Jilly’s Bar. During these years, he also documented an inspiring solo recital at Maybeck Recital Hall for Concord; conversational duo encounters with Ranglin in 1980 and with Clayton in 1985 for MPS; and an impeccable one-off with bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Grady Tate for Soul Note.
Caribbean Circle (Chesky), from 1992, and Yard Movement (Island Jamaica Jazz), from 1996, previewed a series of albums for Telarc on which Alexander plays Anglophone Caribbean styles with musicians he’d known since his teens. (Island Records President Chris Blackwell created the Island Jamaica Jazz division specifically to release Yard Movement and an Alexander-produced Ranglin album called Below The Bass Line, which relaunched Ranglin’s career.) Yard
Movement represents a musical turning point, marking Alexander’s first attempt to play acoustic grand piano with a straight-out reggae ensemble incorporating electric guitar and electric bass.
With Telarc, Alexander made further forays into this hybrid genre on a collaboration with drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare titled Monty Meets Sly and Robbie and on explorations of Bob Marley’s music titled Stir It Up and Concrete Jungle, while addressing a broader Jamaican spectrum on Goin’ Yard and Playin’ Yard. All the while, Alexander was probing more deeply into mento, Jamaica’s indigenous calypso. Descended from the French quadrille music to which English colonists danced in the nineteenth century, mento evolved into what Alexander calls “a deep country Jamaican thing” with African retentions—a banjo, a rhumba box that is akin to a bass kalimba, hand drums, and often harmonica, fiddle or pennywhistle. It spread throughout the island, and, as the 20th century unfolded, cross-pollinated with rhythm-and-blues and jazz, evolving into Ska.
“I was bummed out after it ended with John and Jeff because I’d gotten used to that precision, that projection,” Alexander said. “Although other people were fine and good, no one came close to that. So I spent more time in Jamaica. It’s simple music, two chords—but life is in those two chords.”
As Alexander’s explorations progressed, he found it ever more complicated to convene a single ensemble in which he could satisfactorily coalesce “things that reflect my heritage as an English-speaking Caribbean person” and his love for hard swinging jazz. “I would have a trio of jazz masters, and when I’d want to play something that reflected Jamaica, whether calypso or Bob Marley, I couldn’t get that thing because that’s not what they do,” Alexander said. “Conversely, the Jamaican guys didn’t relate to the jazz experience. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to share my two loves, which is one love, to coin Bob’s phrase.”
Midway through the ’00s, Alexander began to resolve the issue with a project dubbed Harlem-Kingston Express, first documented 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, both on Motéma. The band on both recordings is a double trio—Hassan Shakur on contrabass and either Herlin Riley or Obed Calvaire on drums, and Jamaicans Glen Browne or Courtney Panton on electric bass and Karl Wright on drums. “It fulfills me, because it’s my own life experience,” Alexander says. “It’s like Barack Obama music. We are all cut from the same cloth.”
In live performance with Harlem-Kingston Express, Alexander spontaneously orchestrates, switching-off from straight-ahead to two-worlds-meet. “I’m captain of the ship, and everything is freewheeling,” he says. A boxing aficionado since his earlier days in Jamaica, he offers the sweet science as a metaphor. “It’s like you go into the ring, and you throw the left, you throw the right—but whatever you throw, throw it right,” he says. “There’s almost always some kind of jet taking off when I transfer the music to one rhythm or the other. Whether it’s 4/4 straightahead acoustic or a rhythm from Jamaica, it’s cathartic. It’s a bring-people-together thing, and the musicians enjoy each other. You can see the camaraderie, no matter who I’ve got. It’s constantly, ‘let’s do it this way, let’s do it that way.’ It never gets old.”
Meanwhile, Alexander continues to apply his creative, charismatic sensibility to the trio context, as demonstrated on Uplift and Uplift 2 (JLP), a pair of deep-swinging navigations of the American Songbook with Shakur on bass and Riley on drums on the former and either Clayton or Shakur on bass and either Hamilton or Frits Landesbergen on drums on the latter. It follows Alexander’s 2008 trio dates, Calypso Blues: The Music of Nat King Cole and The Good Life: Monty Alexander Plays the Songs of Tony Bennett both on Chesky. Also in 2008, Bennett tapped Alexander as the featured pianist on A Swinging Christmas, with the Count Basie Orchestra.
“In our home, Nat Cole was the voice of America,” says Alexander, who describes the Cole and Armstrong concerts to which his father took him in the 1950s as a transformational moment. In 1991, he worked with Cole’s daughter, Natalie Cole, on Unforgettable, her 7-Grammy Award winning tribute album to her father. Other career highlights include a performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with a full orchestra under the direction of Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and recording the piano track on four selections of the soundtrack of Bird, Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic, Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic, and playing on Quincy Jones’ For Love Of Ivy film score.
Alexander would also perform on Jones’ 1970 Smackwater Jack album, sharing piano duties with Herbie Hancock, and on classic albums with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry live at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival. He was a member of the first iteration of Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra during the middle 1980s, and played a memorable engagement with Sonny Rollins in 1990 on the Hudson River Jazz Cruise in New York City.
In August 2000, the Jamaican government designated Alexander Commander in the Order of Distinction for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador. In 2015, the great modern pianist Donald Vega released With Respect To Monty, which included his interpretations of seven Alexander compositions. Furthermore, 2016 will mark the seventh edition of the namesake Monty Alexander Jazz Festival in Easton, Maryland, for which he has served as Artistic Director and perennial performer every Labor Day weekend since 2010.
“I grew up learning Nat Cole’s songs, without knowing the titles, even before I knew about Sinatra,” Alexander continues. “My awareness of his piano playing came later; it was just that smooth voice. When I was little, I confused him with Gene Autry—I was always connecting one thing with another: ‘Wait a minute, that sounded like that.’ That’s why, even now, it’s one world of music for me. 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.”
D.D. Jackson is a Canadian-born, Emmy and Juno Award-winning composer and jazz pianist based in the New York area. He has recorded, toured and performed with such acclaimed artists as: drummers Jack DeJohnette, Milford Graves, Andrew Cyrille, Billy Hart and Questlove of "The Roots"; saxophonists David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, James Carter, Chico Freeman, Jane Bunnett, Chris Potter, and Dewey Redman; trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah; trombonists Craig Harris and Frank Lacy; violinist Billy Bang; flutist James Newton; poet Amiri Baraka; bassists Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Art Davis and William Parker; percussionists Kahil El'Zabar and Mino Cinelu, and many others.
He has also recorded 12 jazz CD's as leader or co-leader (including 2 for the major label BMG as well as on Justin Time Records) featuring his original compositions, ranging from his Juno Award-winning solo piano CD “...so far”, to his larger-scale meditation on the events of 9/11 entitled “Suite for New York”; and two operas, including "Quebecite”[pronounced “KAY-beh-SEE-tay”] (based in part on my African-American father and Chinese mother), and “Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path” (about the father of Canada’s current leader, Justin Trudeau), both written with librettist George Elliott Clarke (the recently-appointed "Poet Laureate of Canada").
Jackson in more recent years began composing music for television, film and other media, and in 2016 received his first Emmy Award for composition (for his writing on the 7-Emmy winning PBS show “Peg + Cat”), after 2 previous additional Emmy nominations as composer and a 4th nomination this year for the upcoming 2017 Daytime Emmy’s (for “Best Song”). Additionally, he has received numerous commissions, most recently from The Ahn Trio and The Metropolis Ensemble.
As a writer and educator, Jackson has penned articles for such publications as the Village Voice and DownBeat magazine (the latter for which he maintained a popular column on his experiences as a jazz musician entitled "Living Jazz”, for 5 years). Jackson has also taught part-time at Hunter College for the past 7 years (where in 2016 he received the Hunter College Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching), and for four years he served as Chair of Jazz and Contemporary Studies at the Harlem School of the Arts (mentoring such students as 15-year-old prodigy and Hammond and Yamaha Artist Matthew Whitaker, and recent "The Voice” finalist and singer/songwriter We' McDonald).
Jackson lives in Maplewood, NJ (just outside of New York City) with his wife and two children. His website is: http://ddjackson.com
Kahil El’zabar is considered by his peers to be one of the most prolific innovators of his generation. He has recorded more than sixty well-received projects, and has won numerous international awards as a musician and composer. El’zabar has worked with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Pharoah Sanders, Neneh Cherry, Nina Simone, Ntozake Shange, David Murray, Nona Hendryx, and Lester Bowie, to name a few. He has scored successful feature films like, “How You Like Me Now,” (Warner Brothers) “Mo Money,” (Columbia Pictures) and “Love Jones,” (New Line Cinema). He also scored arrangements for the theatrical version of Disney’s ”The Lion King”. He recently scored two popular documentaries in 2014, “BeKnown,” (which is on the life of El’zabar) and “America the Beautiful III,” by Darryl Roberts.
Dr. El’zabar holds a PHD in Inter-Disciplinary Arts from Lake Forest College (2006). He has taught and held the position of Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) and at the University of Illinois (Chicago). He has also served on several prestigious panels such as the National Endowment of the Arts, the NPN (National Performance Network) and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund. El’zabar is a former Chairman of the internationally acclaimed AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), and is also a founding board member of the highly influential NCFE (National Campaign for the Freedom of Expression). As a cultural events specialist, El’zabar created and produced Underground Fest (one of the most famous
Avant-garde Jazz Festivals ever). He also created and curated “Traffic,” for Steppenwolf Theater (an inter-disciplinary arts series which also spawned the National Public Radio show also titled “Traffic”). He is currently curating events as a visiting Artist in residence in Bordeaux, France since 2001,and is also currently the Executive Creative Dir. of the Chicago Academy of Music on the campus of the University of Chicago.
In 2006, The Chicago Tribune named Kahil El’zabar Chicagoan of the Year. In 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. El’zabar to the National Task Force on Arts in Education, and in 2012 President Barak Obama’s administration awarded him the International Ambassador’s Award in the Arts. Kahil El’zabar is indeed a renaissance man. He is a master musician, composer, and educator, as well as, an accomplished/exhibited visual artist and designer, along with being a published writer and poet. In 2014,Sir Kahil El’zabar was knighted by the Counsel General of France (Chevalier Medal de Lettres) in honor of his many global contributions within the Arts. El’zabar strongly believes that art expressed first from the heart into the practice of one’s higher mind, inspires a journey to the soul.