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Monty Alexander: ‘I Used to be Playing Piano at A Membership. In Walked Frank Sinatra’

In a free-wheeling interview, the Jamaican jazz cat opens up about his esteem for cricket, how he as soon as accompanied Frank Sinatra, and why Miles Davis adopted a rock sound while playing jazz music

Monty Alexander is with out pain one of presumably the most underrated – though no longer unappreciated – jazz pianists on the American jazz scene. He has been amongst the break few jazz pianists over the closing plenty of decades, playing consistently factual music. 

Mumbai would possibly maybe be treated to a evening of his unparalleled talents on the piano when he performs on the NCPA Jazz Competition on November 26th on the Tata Theatre. His theme for the festival is ‘Jamaica to Jazz.’ Alexander would possibly maybe be accompanied by Dennis Rollins on the trombone, Joshua Thomas on electric bass and guitar, Luke Sellick on acoustic bass and Jason Brown on drums. 

Born in Jamaica, Alexander began playing piano on the age of six and moved to the U.S. in his teens in 1961, and has been a basic resolve in jazz, having performed with a pair of of the most realistic doubtless jazz musicians spherical. 

We had a protracted dialog with Alexander over the cellphone with his Mumbai debut in mind and learned a delicious, frank, cosy artist who used to be willing to talk openly on issues jazz, cricket, calypso, reggae and nearly anything. His manner to his music is as upbeat as his lilting Jamaican kind of speaking, paying homage to Michael Keeping commentating on cricket fits. It used to be a delicious chat and we maintain now got excerpted a pair of highlights from the dialog. 

Hi Monty, how is the jazz scene in Contemporary York for the time being? 

It’s a aggregate of the weak sound and what a bunch of younger other folks are doing, no longer always sounding like the music one has been extinct to. 

For the younger crowd, Duke Ellington used to be moderately vehement when he said, “While you’d salvage to perceive the attach apart you are going, it is serious to perceive the attach apart you’ve got got design from.” Maybe the younger lot of musicians would possibly maybe well maybe composed pay stamp to that and get some route in their sound. 

Now that you simply recall the title of the wide Edward Kennedy Ellington, for me no matter he said is gospel. What a man he used to be! Sure, the formative years would possibly maybe well maybe composed certainly interrogate the music and its history. 

Sure, and what an impact Duke Ellington has had on the music! A factual pillar of jazz. 

I moderately read his biography to recall a peer at and recall in the facts. I clearly undergo in mind him speaking about his declare to to India with his eminent band. 

SS: Sure, he toured India with his renowned band in the 60s. I as soon as heard a reference to you on a jazz radio dwelling, I deem in Chicago. They were having a jazz “blindfold” quiz the attach apart the viewers used to be invited to wager the pianist playing a certain share and salvage a prize. Any individual guessed it used to be Oscar Peterson playing – and the announcer laughed and said, “No, it isn’t Oscar, however in case you deem it is Oscar and it isn’t, this it would possibly maybe maybe be Monty Alexander.” They were playing your recording. 

[Laughs] That’s flattering. I knew Oscar completely. You appreciate, when he bought on the stage, he looked every inch a piano participant. He had a commanding presence even sooner than he performed the basic demonstrate. You appreciate, he used to be in the starting attach other than the West Indies, from Barbados, and we would declare in the Caribbean lingo and about our accepted tradition. 

No longer too long previously, Canada has honored Oscar by minting money with him on them! 

Who’re the different jazz pianists you’ve got got loved? 

Nat Cole when he performed piano, Errol Garner, Ahmad Jamal. These pianists are marvelous. I’m in touch with Ahmad Jamal who’s 92 now and composed playing. Clearly, Sonny Rollins is moreover 92, however he has stopped playing. 

Talking of the most effective Oscar Peterson, who incidentally used to be moreover deeply impressed with Nat King Cole’s piano playing, we seen that you simply were in total accompanied by musicians who performed with Oscar – Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, Herb Ellis and others. How used to be the abilities of playing with these giants? 

Properly, Ray Brown used to be simply the most realistic doubtless bass participant there ever used to be, so I was blessed. Drummer Ed Thigpen performed with me at Montreaux. He used to be a weak exhausting-driving drummer and made me strengthen my playing trusty to reduction up with him! 

You recorded with Dizzy Gillespie at Montreaux as well. 

That used to be in 1977 with Dizzy and moreover Milt Jackson. These were unheard of sessions for Pablo Data. 

Being from Jamaica, did you ever meet Michael Keeping and Bob Marley? 

When I was rising up we heard the calypso. Reggae used to be no longer spherical then. That came later. 

I no doubt maintain performed and recorded a pair of of Bob Marley’s music. 

With Michael Keeping, I as soon as performed at a characteristic to honor him. He used to be moderately something. 

I esteem the cricket from the West Indies; other folks like the three W’s, Weeks, Walcott and Worrell. There used to be Wesley Corridor and I undergo in mind these spinners from Trinidad, Ramadhin and Valentine. 

And Rohan Kanhai… 

Ah! Sure. Rohan Kanhai, with out a doubt. 

How did you fetch into jazz? 

As a younger boy of 10 or so, I heard Louis Armstrong in Jamaica in 1955 and after the demonstrate used to be in a position to shake palms with the most effective man. That used to be the 2nd I made up my mind that I would play jazz. 

That’s moderately a 2nd. How did you fetch to Contemporary York? 

Serendipity! I had moved to Miami and used to be playing piano at a membership. In walked Frank Sinatra with his buddy Jilly. Sinatra came up to me and said I would possibly maybe well maybe composed transfer to Contemporary York. It trusty came about that his buddy Jilly owned a accepted jazz membership named after him. I moved to Contemporary York and performed at Jilly’s. Sinatra used to be a frequent visitor there. 

Did you ever play with Frank Sinatra? 

No longer on a recording however one evening, Sinatra came to the membership the attach apart I was playing and said he desired to relate a pair of. I accompanied him. 

Did you meet other jazz musicians at Jilly’s? 

Sure. Miles Davis used to be there moderately in total. He used to be always dressed immaculately in a swimsuit, and would sit and listen to me play. 

What originate you deem made Miles stop his fine acoustic sound and recall to digital music, jazz rock and fusion? 

Miles had a live efficiency in San Francisco. The band opening for him used to be a rock band. The gang waiting to fetch in went across the block. It grew to develop into out that the younger other folks had design for the rock band, no longer for Miles! That bought him pondering. 

He began to listen to Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and others. He wanted the following that the rock other folks were getting. He brought in the amplified digital sound, keyboards, rock guitars and drummers who performed the backbeat. His music used to be no longer melodic and he even changed the manner he dressed. He wore what looked like pyjamas! Nonetheless he bought the crowds in. 

What did you deem of that jazz-rock share? 

After Miles, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter began Climate File as did other jazz musicians, playing jazz-rock. I didn’t care too powerful for that sound. 

I disclose other folks like Wynton Marsalis and a few others brought help the weak jazz sound and swing help into sort. 

es, the Contemporary Orleans sound returned. And has stayed ever since. Slightly a relief! 

We maintain some furious other folks awaiting your Mumbai live efficiency on the NCPA. Welcome to India, Monty Alexander! 

I am no doubt taking a peer forward to being in India for the basic time and playing in Mumbai. Explore you there! 

Sunil Sampat is a jazz critic and Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone India. Write to Sunil at [email protected]

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