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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Jamaica Swing Exceprt #5 - Monty Alexander

Born and raised in Kingston , Jamaica , he took his first piano lessons at age six. As a youngster, he was often invited to sit in with the bands of prominent musicians working in Jamaican nightclubs and hotels. During his teen years, he enjoyed, among others, the performances of Louis Armstrong and Nat “King” Cole at the Carib Theater in Jamaica . The shades of joyful gospel music in these artists' performances had a profound and lasting effect on Alexander's own style. He eventually formed a band called “Monty and the Cyclones,” which landed several songs on the Jamaican music charts between 1958 to 1960.

Alexander came to the United States in the end of 1961. Less than two years later, he'd landed a gig with Art Mooney's orchestra in Las Vegas, where 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, where he accompanied many well-known performers, including Sinatra. He also met Milt Jackson, who hired Monty to work with him, and eventually introduced him to bassist Ray Brown (with whom he subsequently recorded and performed on many occasions). One introduction led to another, and before long he was working with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, and Sonny Rollins.

In the past decade alone, Alexander has maintained an especially busy schedule with multiple projects spanning multiple genres and styles. In 1991, he assisted Natalie Cole in crafting a tribute album to her father, Nat “King” Cole (the album, Unforgettable, won seven Grammy awards). In 1993, he had performed at Carnegie Hall in a tribute to the great jazz pianist Erroll Garner.

A regular fixture at the Montreux Jazz Festival since 1976, he performed at the Swiss festival in 1993 and 1994 with opera singer Barbara Hendricks in a program of Duke Ellington compositions. He was back in Montreux in 1995, this time with his all-Jamaican reggae group where he recorded a live album for Island Records, Yard Movement .

In August 1996, Alexander performed George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” with a full symphony orchestra directed by Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland . By the end of that same year, he had recorded nearly sixty CDs under his own name, and was frequently performing at leading festivals and music venues worldwide.

Alexander joined the Telarc label with the 1999 release of Stir It Up, an album that combined acoustic jazz and Jamaican reggae rhythm sections to interpret the music of the great Bob Marley. He was joined in he studio by the Jamaican reggae rhythm section known as Gumption. Gumption interfaced rhythmically with the jazz rhythm section, which included drummer Troy Davis and bassist Hassan Shakur. Telarc labelmate Steve Turre guested on trombone and conch shells.

Stir It Up marked the beginning of a prolific period for Alexander on Telarc – one that continues to this day. In 2000, he released Monty Meets Sly and Robbie, an album featuring Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare – reggae's most respected and experienced rhythm section. This summit meeting of multi-talented and multi-faceted players results in a vibrant combination of classic soul tunes, funky jazz and hardcore grooves.

Goin' Yard , released in 2001, was recorded live at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania . Goin' Yard united Alexander with a six-piece band of Jamaica 's finest musicians, including special guest hand drummer Robert Thomas Jr.

Alexander's My America, released in 2002, includes guest appearances by guitarist John Pizzarelli and vocalists Freddy Cole and Kevin Mahogany. The following year, he teamed up with his jazz trio – including bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer Mark Taylor – for the first time in five years for Impressions in Blue. The album is a celebration of the bluesier side of jazz, with eleven tracks that include favorites from the great American songbook, as well as few selections of more exotic origin.

Alexander revisits his roots with Rocksteady, a collaborative album with reggae guitarist Ernest Ranglin scheduled for release on Telarc in April 2004. The album is a tribute to the ska movement that flourished in Jamaica 's Studio One (the island version of Motown) in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and eventually spread throughout the world. Rocksteady revisits a time and place in which Alexander and Ranglin were two young guns, loaded with talent and in the midst of a sweeping musical movement.
Separate and apart from being the best musician he can be, Alexander's most important objective – whether his vehicle is reggae or jazz or soul, small combo or symphony – is to express the joy of music to all within earshot, regardless of prevailing differences in taste or culture. “My goal is to uplift,” says Alexander. “The piano, to me, is a vehicle for connecting to other human beings. I'm very open to all forms of music. I'm not a bebop musician, I'm not a calypso musician, I'm not a reggae musician. I'm a musician who loves it all.

taken from www.telarc.com

jamaica Swing Excerpt #4

Courtney Pine
devoted to excellence
by Michael A Edwards
Sunday, July 04, 2004Courtney Pine

Anyone who heard the blistering saxophone solo that supports the posthumous Bob Marley release, Iron Lion Zion knew they were hearing a phenomenal talent, and upon the song's release and frequent spins on radio, there came the question, "who's that guy on the horn?" The answer turned out to be a Briton with Jamaican roots by the name of Courtney Pine.

No one better embodies the dramatic transformation in the British Jazz scene over the past few years than Courtney Pine. First drawn to jazz by the tenor sax stylings of the legendary Sonny Rollins, he moving away from the instrumental limitations of reggae in pursuit of Rollins' hybrid sound (jazz with country and western, as immortalised in Williams Claxton's famous sleeve for the Way Out West album) and a musical setting which would allow him to stretch out and make full use of the hours of wood shedding he embarked on; a rigorous regime of practice which gave Pine the essential technical facility to continue in pursuit of his chosen music.

"At that time," he previously told music writers, " I didn't know what improvising entailed. "I knew nothing at all about chord substitutions, I just knew how to play the instrument and the C sharp major scale, and that was it. I put the record on and tried to play what Sonny played, regardless of whether he was flattening his ninths. I was ignorant."

The ignorance, however, quickly transformed into competence. Pine wasted little time making his mark on the London scene, and Island Records was quick to recognise the potential.
His debut, Journey To The Urge Within, was the recipient of considerable media attention, but much of the focus was motivated by the novelty appeal of a personable, sharply-dressed young black jazzman, rather than a real commitment to the music itself, Journey was the first straight-ahead jazz album to crack the British Top 40.

Pine was subsequently involved in the creation of the Abibi Jazz Arts organisation in London, a focus for the advancement of, in Courtney's worlds, "Afro-Classical music". Through Abibi, he became a prime mover in the creation of the Jazz Warriors, an all-black big band. The Warriors 1987 debut, Out Of Many, One People echoed the Jamaican motto. The unit evolved into a much sought-after training ground for emerging talent, in the spirit its founders intended.

Never one to rest on past achievements, Courtney Pine has continually explored different tangents of the spreading jazz tree. The vision's tale saw him exploring the Afro-Classical tradition, with Pine interpreting the work of early giants like Ellington, Mercer and Carmichael as well as directing a nod toward his idol, Sonny Rollins.
At the start of 1990, Pine had travelled to Jamaica for a showcase jazz gig. While he was on the island he took the opportunity to record an album with the hottest producer in contemporary reggae, Gussie Clarke. The result was a collection of tunes which took Pine right back to his musical roots. His latest album release, Devotion, continues in the eclectic vein of incorporating up-to-the-minute street sounds, with African and traditional jazz forms.

Pine, who was awarded the OBE in 2000 for his services to Jazz, has continued his inspirational role at the forefront of UK Jazz in many ways, but has been especially busy on radio. He still presents his regular high rating Radio 2 slot, which has featured musicians from all genres from Radiohead to Herbie Hancock.
His fifth series is now confirmed to return to Radio 2 in June of this year. His other major contribution to Radio 2 is JAZZ MAKERS, a one-off six part series he recorded and produced for BBC Radio 2, which aired in February. He also recently presented another major series for Radio 2 - UK Black - which examined the black musical heritage of this country from the Windrush years to the present day, and featured leading lights on the scene of the last 30 years, including the likes of Soul 2 Soul's Jazzie B, Eddie Grant, Mica Paris, Loose End's Carl Mackintosh and comedian Lenny Henry.

His latest soundtrack was for the definitive two-part BBC documentary Nelson Mandela: The Living Legend. Shown on BBC and SABC in South Africa in March of last year to widespread critical acclaim.
Following on from the education workshops he toured two years ago, Pine is presently now in the final stages of production on an animated children's short film he has written and produced, due for release in the spring of next year and including musical contributions from the likes of Maxi Jazz.

Recently, Pine was named as one of the Top 10 Greatest Black Britons of all time. Two years ago the BBC's high profile hunt for the 100 greatest Britons failed to find a single black face, an omission which drove Patrick Vernon (who runs a black history website) to set up a similar poll exclusively for black Britons.
Pine joins the illustrious company of nurse extraordinaire Mary Seacole, labour man and Utech Chancellor Sir Bill Morris, Sir Trevor McDonald, Professor Stuart Hall, Bernie Grant, Dame Shirley Bassey, Queen Phillipa, Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Shake Keane, Carib Jazz giant

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Archive: March/April 2004
Real Keane

by Philip Nanton
from the March/April 2004 Issue (No. 66) of Caribbean Beat

Born into a musical family in St Vincent, Ellsworth "Shake" Keane was one of the international jazz world's most admired musicians in the 1960s, but for 20 years he dissappeared from the limelight devoting himself to the writing of poems. Philip Nanton investigates the contradictions and juxtapositions in the life of this "musical chameleon" who saw jazz as nothing less than a mode of being

England in 1952, any month, would have been a cold place to arrive with just 11 pounds sterling in your pocket. But if you could play the horn, Shake used to say, then playing mambo and calypso was better than carrying bricks to build houses in Pimlico.
A musician from the age of six, Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane was taught to play by his father. He had a gift for music. Twenty years later, when he returned to St Vincent, it was for his achievement as a trumpet and flugelhorn player that he had become famous in international jazz circles, though he had left for London intending to study English literature. Although formal academic study was soon abandoned, his commitment to literature, particularly poetry, never deserted him. Both jazz and poetry became important anchors in his life.
In 1927, Shake was born into a family of musicians in his native St Vincent. (Some say the nickname came from his love of literature — it was short for “Shakespeare”; others attribute it to his love of a popular tune, Chocolate Milk Shake, in his early years.) He later recounted hard times in his youth, including tales of furniture being carried to safety through windows to dodge approaching bailiffs.
But there was always the music. The Keane Brothers comprised an entire band at one time, and at an early age Shake was thrust into its leadership. As a teenager, he also became a member of one of the island’s leading dance bands, Ted Lawrence and His Silvertone Orchestra, and Shake’s distinctive horn was a regular feature in the annual carnival celebrations. He was no academic slouch either, taking a post as pupil-teacher in the island’s grammar school in 1944, where among other subjects he taught music and French.
But poetry was equally his passion. L’Oubli, his first collection, was published in 1950, when he was 23 years old, followed by Ixion in 1952. He went on to publish three more collections, One a Week With Water: Rhymes and Notes and The Volcano Suite, both in 1979, and Palm and Octopus in 1994.
L’Oubli and Ixion show Shake’s early skills as a poet. Some of this writing he acknowledged as a West Indian version of English poetry of the 1930s, influenced by W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Cecil Day-Lewis. A primary feature of his early collections was economy of language to express a range of conflicts and moods; for example, the picture of rural life from the opening of the poem “Perhaps Not Now” contains both the hope of ease and the reality of hardship:
Perhaps not now the crops’ comfort,
The chair with its deep harvest of rest,
Afternoons’ unhurried naps.
Not now the day,
Some other time perhaps
As yet only work, and waiting, and dreaming and the dust.

The early poetry reveals an interest in religious contemplative themes. This was reflected in two articles Shake published in Bim in 1952, titled “Some Religious Attitudes in West Indian Poetry”. “L’Oubli”, the long meditative poem from which his first collection takes its name, presented six variations on the theme of human fallibility and the transitory nature of the age. “Our time is of forgetting / and today’s dreams — meteorite / come, and gone”. These early collections fluctuate between introspective musings drawing on biblical references and nature, and a creative focus on the folk traditions of St Vincent. These come together in his often anthologised poem “Shaker Funeral”, in which he captures the emotional fervour and incantations of a burial procession for a leading “shepherdess”, a religious leader.

Sweet Mother gone
to the bye and bye
follow her to the brink of Zion

Communal and down-to-earth concerns, in both rural and urban settings, became a theme of his writing, paralleled in his music by an instinctive openness.

It was in England that Shake began to consider himself a jazz musician. He had obtained a job as a producer with the BBC, and he went to interview Joe Harriott, the Jamaican jazz saxophonist. Harriott was looking for a trumpeter to join his band. He wanted someone with whom he could dialogue in musical form. Shake more than met the challenge. He became one of a select band of musicians who, because of the clarity and quality of his playing, was rarely out of work. He played with the Joe Harriott Quintet, the Michael Garrick Quintet, and later, in a move to Germany, with bands led by Kurt Edel Hagen, Francy Boland, and Kenny Clarke.
Last summer, wanting to find out more about Shake’s musicianship, I talked with Michael Garrick, his one time band-leader in London. He described Shake as a “musical chameleon”, remembering how easily a wide range of styles came to him. Horn playing for Shake, he said, was like breathing.
But with all the sophisticated jazz around him, Shake could not afford to be elitist. A jobbing musician, he not only achieved tremendous respect as a jazz artist but he worked with popular African and Caribbean bands as well. He backed the prolific Lord Kitchener, played with the Nigerian drummer Ginger Johnson, played sessions for Oh Boy! (British TV’s Top of the Pops of this era), and he could be heard regularly at Sunday lunchtime London pub gigs, matching whoever brought an instrument to play in the saloon bar of his local. His music, like his poetry, was for all.
His lifestyle was as gregarious as his art. In appearance he was a fearsome six-foot-four, with full beard, dark shades, and a constant supply of roll-up cigarettes always to hand. This fierce demeanor was offset by a playfulness and lyricism which permeated his style. Val Wilmer, the jazz historian, has described the way these features combine in his music. “His playing,” she writes, “combines two extremes: the fragile lyricism for which the wide-bored flugelhorn is particularly suited, and an almost brutal aggressiveness and unpredictability. It is this sound of surprise in his playing, and his ability to handle music of any kind, that puts him at the forefront of his generation of trumpeters.”

In 1972, Shake took up an offer to return to St Vincent as director of the National Department of Culture, only to find himself out of a job when, two years later, the department was closed down following a change of political regime. With little prospect of re-entering a full-time jazz career in Europe, he returned to secondary school teaching and his poetry. His writing became spare, fragmented, satirical, and angry, suggesting a sense of frustration caused by local politics and the abandonment of a flourishing jazz career.
But by 1976, while teaching in Georgetown, St Vincent’s second-largest town, he completed One a Week With Water: Rhymes and Notes. It is probably here that he achieved his most imaginative and lasting commentary on Caribbean society in general, and St Vincent society in particular. In 1979 he was awarded Cuba’s Casa de las Americas prize for this poetry collection. Through humour, satire, and a range of experiments with language, the collection offers an oblique commentary on Caribbean society.
Conscious of the possibilities of jazz crossing the boundaries of various creative art-forms, Shake identified criteria which for him legitimated poetry, novels, indeed any genre, as “jazz”. In a discussion about poetry and jazz with Linton Kwesi Johnson and Mike Garrick, broadcast by the BBC in 1992, he observed:
There are certain kinds of structure, certain habits, that all jazz men seem to have, and if you find a poem that uses what would parallel those habits you might say, for example, that is a jazz poem. For example, the riff, the repeated phrase, that happens in jazz a lot. Then you have the sudden juxtaposition of certain elements. Then there is the feeling that the poem is improvised . . . although
. . . the structure just leaps out at you and the care and craftsmanship is there . . . but some [poems] are highly crafted but don’t strike you as highly crafted. If you pick out these elements, and find them in other writing or ways of dress or ways of talking, you can say that is a jazz man or that is a jazz hat, jazz poem, or jazz novel.

These characteristics of juxtaposition and what appeared to be casual improvisation, but was actually detailed attention to the crafting of the work, were all important features of One a Week With Water.
In what at first appears to be a lighthearted way, the collection provides a thought or a comment for each week of a calendar year. In week 14, for example, he makes fun of the serious business of official statistical calculation. He writes

if you take the amount of
strong rum (calculated in proof-gallons)
consumed in any given month
of Sundays, and compare it with
the excise duty (assessed as a per-
centage over and above the actual
value of the liquor) then divide
this amount by the energy required
to deface any number of domino dots
by slamming, over a period, of, say,
one month of Sundays. And if
this entire calculation is undertaken
between nine and eleven-thirty in the
fore-noon of any Sunday, and ex
pressed in terms of foot pounds recurring,
chances are, you’re a genius,
and your wife is probably
wondering what on earth
you and the boys
could be up to
this sunny
Sunday mor-

But his humour is offset by shards of anger. In week 3 he observes:

For 400 years
Out of Ngola
40 people
turned up on the plantations of Brazil
every week very weak
or in the plantations of the sea

Every Sunday
As I sugar my tea
I want to Shoot

In the text, he suggests that while his island “deals perhaps less comfortably with situations of fact than with engagements of personality,” for him hope comes out of creativity. Thus this optimistic comment: “what we will create and even already done start create, pon this scarred and hallowed mountain top, could blow yo mind.”

Shake Keane in the late 1980s
Courtesy Christine Keane

But this return to St Vincent now seemed to him to be a dead end. In 1981, feeling increasingly embittered, and with a number of relationships destroyed, he once again departed, this time for New York. Here he made his home till his death, at the start of a tour to Norway, in 1997. Times were again often hard. He turned to arranging, and played music less regularly. The decades, it seems, had taken their toll, as had a daily existence in the US without an official residence permit for a number of years, and then suffering the indignity of a few muggings. The loss of some teeth made him chary about playing, because of the fear that his high standards would be compromised. However, in 1991 he made his one CD, Real Keen: Reggae into Jazz, under the British LKJ label. Sporadic gigs Harriott Quintet (Coleridge Goode and Bobby Orr) in London, and making guest appearances in Oslo, Norway.
But age, declining health, and the straitened conditions of life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn were catching up with him. Trapped by circumstances, he again returned to poetry. A number of his unpublished poems from these years evoke some of the experiences of living in New York that he chose to record. One image that these poems convey is of a somewhat solitary figure with time on his hands and considerable experience of bar culture. His unpublished “Brooklyn Themes: Poems September 1981–February 1983”, for example, is dedicated to “all my friends at the Tiffany’s lounge, Brooklyn, where all these poems were conceived and most were written.” From this collection of nine poems, four of them (“Juke Box”, “The Bar”, “Ruth”, and “Gwen Sings”) deal with aspects of bar life.
The poetry also became more reflective and personal, as in Palm and Octopus, a collection of 12 love poems that he published independently in 1994. One of his last poems, “Angel Horn”, offers a gentle interpretation of his musicianship and a lyrical summing up of an older man’s perspective on his art and his life:

When I was born
my father gave to me
an angelhorn
With wings of melody.
That angel placed her lips
upon my finger-tips
and I became, became
her secret name.

Shake Keane in his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood, 1989
Val Wilmer

Shake Keane’s was a rich and varied artistic life, with high levels of accomplishment in both literature and music. Yes, there were lows, as well as mistakes. He lived his life very much to his own pattern and tempo. He experienced the heights of acclaim in the unofficial international world of jazz and Caribbean poetry circles and, however briefly, he experienced the upper echelons of his home island’s official and formal world. He was undoubtedly more at home in the world of the informal than the formal, and, unceremoniously, he was quickly thrust back into the world of informality by the infamous admonishment of one of the island’s government ministers that “you can’t eat culture”.

Then picture this scene. It’s a Monday morning in March 2003. The location is Kingstown’s main arts centre, the Peace Memorial Hall. Politicians, religious leaders, island dignitaries are all in attendance. Shake’s almost life-size bust, with spectacles, rests on a polished wooden plinth in a corner of the room, waiting to be unveiled. Prayers are offered and speeches are made. As I make my own speech, I see, in my mind’s eye, the bust give a wry smile; in my head I hear Shake’s booming laugh and his baritone voice saying, dryly, “when you’re dead you’re famous”. The credits roll.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Jamaica Swing Excerpt #3

Harold 'Little G' McNair and Wilton 'Bogey' Gaynair
By Michael Edwards Observer writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004

In a previous instalment of the jazz giants, we examined the life and times of alto sax player Joe Harriott. Several of Harriott's contemporaries also made a significant impact on the British jazz scene of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Among them was Harriott's friend, tenor saxophonist Harold McNair, who like Harriott, was heavily influenced by Charlie as well as by Sonny Rollins. In addition to the Saxes, McNair also played a mean flute.
Almost immediately on his arrival, McNair's formidable talents allowed him to prise open the often impervious circle associated with London jazz legend Ronnie Scott's club. He became a resident artiste, offering his unique blend of Caribbean lyricism and bebop. He made his on-record debut in late 1961 with drummer Tony Crombie's quintet on the innocuous album Whole Lotta Tony.

A couple years after that, he got his big break, working alongside the chart-topping folk-pop singer-songwriter Donovan. Affectionate Fink, made for Chris Blackwell's Island label, featured McNair alongside pianist Alan Branscombe as well as bassist David Izenson and drummer Charles Moffett, the latter two having established themselves as the rhythm section for free jazz legend Ornette Coleman. Writing in the book Yellow Birds, West Indian musicians in London in the 1950s and 60s, Simon Spillett comments that McNair on this recording ".conveys an irrepressible urgency and drive which seems unstoppable, whilst his flute work, whether indulging in Roland Kirk - like antics or simply singing a lyrical ballad, is amongst the finest upon that instrument anywhere in jazz."

McNair followed that up with an eponymously titled album for the RCA label, in 1968, teaming this time with pianist Bill LeSage. The album included his take on Lord Of The Reedy River, a Donovan original, in homage to his one-time boss.

Sadly McNair had little time left in which to further his career. Diagnosed with cancer in 1971, he was unable, even with surgery to halt the advance of the disease. His death, at the tragically young age of 39 (like Wynton Kelly), shocked the London jazz community at the time, particularly Harriott, who was to follow him to the grave just about two years later.
Another saxophonist associated with Harriott's and McNair's formative days, both as part of the Alpha Boys Band, and thereafter with the Jamaica All Stars (the latter combo also included Ocho Rios Jazz founder Sonny Bradshaw), was the tenor - man Wilton "Bogey" Gaynair.

Possessed of a robust, commanding tone, Gaynair's tenor style was a sidelong look at hard bop, akin more to the relaxed approach of Harold Land than the histrionics of Johnny Griffin. Blue Bogey, the record he made in 1959 for Tony Hall's Tempo label (which also featured trumpeter Dizzy Reece), is a fascinating mix of the up-tight drive of Tubby Hayes' rhythm section - and Gaynair's generally less frenetic style.

His recorded output as a leader was essentially curtailed at this point, as he opted for the path of least resistance and settled for a comfortable living as a 'sessions' sideman in Germany. A stroke left him unable to play and at the time of his death a few years later, he was -and is - still largely remembered for Blue Bogey.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Jamaica Swing, Excerpt #2


The wave of Caribbean migration to the UK that began at the turn of the 1950s brought figures that would revolutionise every aspect of British life, and not least its culture and music.

One of the West Indian giants who would light up the post-war London jazz scene was Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott, whose fiery playing and experiments with abstract improvisation and a fusion with Indian classical music made him one of the most radical and original of the voices then operating on the European circuit.

A Charlie Parker disciple obsessed by music and little else, Harriott's closest American parallel was probably the multi-woodwind player Eric Dolphy, who worked in non-avant-garde settings as well as with Charles Mingus - a Harriott admirer - Texan Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. The alto man first recorded under his own name in 1954 - at a time when Coleman was still an elevator operator in Los Angeles.

Harriott thrived during the 1950s, cutting ballad and bebop, big band and the inevitable "with strings" sessions, was featured in concert with visiting American heavies, and involved himself in the burgeoning jazz and poetry movement.
Harriott's uncommon ability earned him a place in Ronnie Scott's short-lived big band in 1956, where he typically won the admiration of his fellow band members for his playing, but had some personality clashes when others saw him as arrogant. He was a person of tremendous self-confidence, and his manner could come across as rather dogmatic and aloof.

One famous recording date that suffered from this was a pairing with fellow Jamaican great, the trumpeter Dizzy Reece. Alfred Lion, who had championed Reece's cause in England and saw similar greatness in Harriott bought the two giants together in studio. The event proved an unmitigated disaster, owing to each man's strong sense of individuality and refusal to give ground in relation to their musical ideas. Harriott ended up storming out and was replaced by another West Indian, Sammy Walker.

Veteran actor, commentator and musicologist Charles Hyatt recalls Harriott as an enormously gifted if brash improviser and acknowledges his place among the Caribbean avant-garde of musicians who came to prominence in the UK and Continental Europe in the 1950s and 60s. Among them bassist Coleridge Goode (who in fact had been resident in Britain since the 1930s), trumpeters Shake Keane and Eddie Thornton (along with Reece), and reedmen Wilton Gaynair, Harold McNair and George Tyndale, to name but a few.

A bout of tuberculosis in1958 kept Harriott in hospital for six months. While there, he began to develop an approach to music that he christened "free form." Unbeknownst to him, Coleman had been developing his own brand of music along similar lines at about the same time, almost half the world away. The results of Harriott's experiments, Free Form and Abstract had the misfortune to be released in the United Kingdom and North America chronologically after Coleman's groundbreaking first LPs (on Atlantic Records) had already gained worldwide attention. Harriott insisted with veracity that he had been thinking about similar ways of improvising years before and his conception of the entire band playing free through broken time signatures and mood changes was far different then the Texan's. But the public imagination - particularly in the US -only had room for one bearded alto sax experimentalist.

In the mid 1960's Harriott began exploring the fusion of Indian music and jazz with the violinist John Mayer, to create some of the first experiments in 'world-music'. Here he pitted six jazzmen opposite four Indian musicians to weave a rich new synthesis of Indian music with modal and free jazz. The sextet broadened with the sounds of violin, sitar, tambura and tabla created a hypnotic backdrop for Joe's explorations on alto. Again Harriott met with critical acclaim, three albums, Indo-Jazz Fusions 1 and 2 and Indo-Jazz Suite, were all recorded in 1966 and are still prized by today's collectors. He also continued to be a popular attraction at European jazz festivals, appearing with the 10-piece band.

Despite critical acclaim Joe Harriott's music went largely ignored in his life and he was never able to live comfortably. Neither could he afford to keep regular working bands together. The characterisation of "temperamental and arrogant" would dog him for the balance of his life, and he had already succumbed to the various temptations (alcohol, gambling, womanising) common to the jazz scene of that time.
He spent his remaining years freelancing around the UK with pick up bands, sleeping on locals' couches and floors. Harriott's closing years were a sad reflection of those of Charlie Parker; dying a lonely and tragic death of cancer in 1973. He was 44.

Now, more than 30 years after his death, Harriott's importance is just beginning to be widely acknowledged. His pioneering free form and Indo-Jazz fusion albums have been re-released to new acclaim.
His name has been added to the Jamaican Jazz Hall of Fame. Trumpeter Keane led a Joe Harriott Memorial Quintet for a time and Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark recorded a tribute CD as the Joe Harriott Project. In 2003, the London Jazz festival dedicated an evening to his memory with performances from older and younger musicians alike.

He also became a cause célébre for Anglo-Jamaican Courtney Pine and his circle. The Jazz Warriors dedicated a tour to his memory and Pine seldom wasted a chance to name check him when interviewed. He is most recently the subject of a new retrospective by first-time biographer Alan Robertson.
A child of adversity, a man of tremendous confidence in his abilities, Joe Harriott was never wanting for a questing spirit when it came to making music. Because of this, the music still sounds as vital and challenging as it did some 50 years ago.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Jazz in the Gardens review

The "Browns" had it at the latest instalment of the popular bi-monthly jazz concert showcasse Jazz in the Gardens at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on Sunday (OCt 31) No less than five performers on the bill had the surnames Brown or Browne.

Best of the lot was pianist/arranger Dr. Kathy Brown hwo led a funky and accomplished quartet comprising Chrsi Tyrell on drums, Dale Brown on bass and Denver Smith on percussion (my pick for best instrumentalist.

Making his Jazz in the Gardens debut was guitarist RObert "Dubwise" Browne, sone of fmaed bassist Glen Browne (who accompanied his son alongside keyboardist Fabian Smith and drummer Shaun Darson.

Also performing were jazz divas Karen Smith(joined by Sabrina Williams) Mari Isaacs, balladeer Maurice "Lady Love" Charles and well-known musicologist, broadcaster and impresario, Keith Brown.

The final Jazz in the Gardens for 2004 happens on December 26