A review by Richard Johnson for Jamaica’s Observer.
THE $10,000-a-pop ticket price did nothing to stop hundreds of Jamaicans from filling the Jamaica Pegasus hotel’s Grand Ballroom in St Andrew on Sunday evening to take in the long overdue performance by jazz pianist Monty Alexander.
Ushers worked overtime and production staff created new rows and shrunk the designated aisles as extra chairs were brought in to deal with the waves of patrons who flooded the event. And, after three hours, it was an an appreciative audience which rose to its feet with thunderous applause for the showcase delivered.
Alexander had promised a musical experience and he truly delivered. Taking the patrons on a escapade which took him from his earliest beginnings in Jamaica, including an experience with Hurricane Charlie in 1951; playing gigs in Miami in the early 1960s; a chance meeting with musical great Frank Sinatra; his Las Vegas experience, and then to New York where he would work with the likes of American crooner Nat King Cole.
Along the way, Alexander dropped music which poignantly told these stories in his inimitable fashion.
Early out of the block was the track Hello, a reggae-infused, jazz piece which he introduced on melodica. He would then return to the piano and the ivories spoke as he greeted his audience. He even took the patron participation one step further as he engaged them in some call and response, and they loved every moment.
Jamento was another piece in which Alexander’s mastery of the piano was evident as he climbed the scales to heady heights and take his audience to the brink and back. After that rush of palpitations, he washed off the heart with Sweet Coconut Water, another fusion which offered sweet reggae riffs atop some smooth jazz. The piece included improvisations of folk music classics Day O and Liza (Water Come a Mi Eye) and the popular theme from A Summer.
The intermission seemed to come too quickly for patrons who were just getting into the swing of things, but Alexander had more in store.
More stories from the past; 50 years of meetings with his musical and other heroes, including Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke. His smooth adaptation of the Concierto de Aranjuez by the Spanish composer JoaquÃn Rodrigo showcased how much of a master Monty Alexander is at his craft. For someone who was never schooled in music theory and does not read music, to be able to adapt and reproduce work, including this classical piece is truly, as he puts it, “a gift”.
The second half of his delightful recital, which was being staged by the University of the West Indies Global Giving Fund, also saw two presentations by Alexander’s wife of 21 years, Italian jazz singer Caterina Zapponi. He injected her vocals on Estate in her native tongue and brought musical cheer for the season with The Christmas Song.
Alexander definitely held the spotlight all night, but that did not prevent other members of his Harlem Kingston Express from shining. Mention must be made of Hassan Shakur on bass — upright bass — who had the ballroom swaying to an array of tracks as he soloed with tunes such as George Benson Give Me the Night, the theme from Pink Panther and em>Rapper’s Delight.
After a trip around the world, Monty Alexander brought the music right back home with the music of Bob Marley. He has made no bones about his respect for the music of the late reggae king and has recorded three tribute albums offering his take on Marley classics. On Sunday night it was Running Away which took patrons home after an evening well spent with a master.