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Friday, March 21, 2008

Jazz As A Metaphor Pt II

The formed sub-culture of the jazz scene was set apart by its adopting of a special
language and style of dress. (The Sonny Bradshaw Seven wore rakish Berets.) Although
the image was one of overwhelming maleness, the fan base had a large female
component, who were as knowledgeable about the music as their male partners, and
were respected within the space. This was the youth sub-culture of the 40’s and 50’s prior to the arrival of Rock and Roll and the development of the regions’ popular musics, and as such was meant for dancing, a vitally important element of black life and entertainment.
It was an urban phenomena which drew to it black men marginalized within their
own country by the white political superstructure and who not only found a way to speak without words, but also a way to create a world of their own.
Young men like Sonny Bradshaw and Horace Galbraith made their own radios
and defied the colonial ban on information; they listened to Cuban radio, Germany, calling, Armed Forces Radio (AFRS), Voice of America and anything else they could
pick up.
It was to be the big disappointment of Bradshaw’s life, when the Royal Air Force
call came for technicians and other Air Force personnel from the Colonies and everyone else in his little group of electronic experimenters got the chance to go to England, but he was just one month too young. As he says: I was never to wear the wonderful blue uniform that the girls were crazy about.”
During the school Summer holidays, through the intervention of his teacher from
Central Branch/Conversorium school, Bradshaw acquired a holiday job as a wrapper at
Montague’s Music and Novelty store on Tower Street, and after leaving Kingston
Technical High School was employed full time as clerk in the novelty section where the musical instruments were housed. This was to be the start of Bradshaw’s serious interest in music-making and a long 60-year career.
At Montague’s Music store, Bradshaw discovered European classical music and
got accustomed to the form and style of popular composers as the music teachers who, on the other side of the store, tried out every piece of music before they bought it; at the same time, listening on his home-made radio, he was able to hear the American Hit Parade, and young Jo Stafford singing the popular reworking of Chopin’s Prelude in Eflat into ‘No Other Love’ as well as classical themes such as Debussy’s ‘My Reverie’ of which he says: ‘gave me the opportunity of noting the differences and similarities in the black and white worlds of music; I think it was called musical appreciation, and when I discovered modern classical composer Stravinsky doing things with one of my favourite bands, the Thundering Woody Herman Herd...I knew it was time for experimentation. Of the lot, I rather liked the melodic lines of Chopin, also Beethoven for his percussive and jazzy feel; in addition I had to sell the five-inch statuettes of the ‘great composers’ and noting their attire and hairstyles-long hair and curls, along with hearing their music across the music store, I concluded that these guys were not rich or even high-class individuals, but struggling musicians making a living out of what they believed in. This was very encouraging. I took on Valse Trieste by Sibelius one Saturday when the tore was empty……….this piece attracted me greatly as I kept wondering what chords the
composer was using to accompany that beautiful dirge-like composition. I took home the piece, and with my little harmony book, took all week dissecting the left and right hand notes to arrive at my set of chords and doing a four-part ensemble for trumpet, alto-sax, trombone and tenor sax; after a few corrections, it sounded great, but there was no-where to play it!!’.
As his interest in music grew so did the conflict between his day job and his
occasional night-time playing which caused him to be late for work on those occasions.
He eventually gave up the job to the great annoyance of his father, who nevertheless
supported him by asking Mr. Roy White who was not only the leader of the Roy White
Jump Sultans Orchestra, but also the woodwork teacher at Kingston Technical, if he had a place for Sonny in his band. Mr. White duly auditioned Sonny and gave him a place as third trumpet in the section.
The band rehearsals were kept at Mr. White’s woodwork shop at Beeston Street
and further exposed Bradshaw to black music and musicians, the charts for which Mr.
White imported especially for his band. Although his stint with the Jump Sultans was
short, just a few months, Bradshaw was to be exposed not only to black music and
musicians, but also to politics, as Mr. Whites woodwork shop was also a political
meeting place, as he was an activist for the PNP/TUC coalition.
As Bradshaw’s career developed, it became clear that his main instrument was to
be the ‘Orchestra’. Of all the musicians and bandleaders operating at the time he was the only one who consistently wrote his own arrangements for his band as opposed to using the stock arrangements such as those which his old boss used to bring in from the US. He taught himself to play the bass and the trumpet, later on adding the Fugelhorn, thereby developing into a multi-instrumentalist. He bought himself an arrangers book and taught himself arranging by studying the workings of the brass instruments, the wind instruments etc., and wrote out his experimental ideas, even while having nowhere to play them. Unlike his contemporaries whose works are recorded on vinyl, Bradshaw’s works are written compositions which may be read and interpreted both visually and musically. Says Bradshaw:
“I didn’t just write for my band but for any band that I was in and for other
musicians as well. Milton McPherson also wrote quite a few things, but he was before
In later years Bradshaw would write music for plays on radio, for Pantomimes
and other theatrical productions, radio commercials, themes for JTB (Jamaica Tourist
Board)promotional films as well as his own compositions and arrangements for other
bands and singers.
After making the decision to leave his job at Montagues’ music store in pursuit of
music, Bradshaws’s entrepreneurial spirit was to come to the fore; he had already decided to form his own band and being bored with the stock arrangements being played by the Roy Coburn band which he joined after leaving the jump Sultans, he left the band and stayed home practicing and writing arrangements. According to Bradshaw only his mother understood; his father certainly did not!!
In 1950 the first Sonny Bradshaw seven was formed. The format was based on
that of the Johnny Dankworth Seven, a British band which Bradshaw admired. The
personnel included young Joe Harriott saxophone(just out of Alpha with permission from Sis.Ignatius)and Bradshaw himself on Trumpet with a little scat vocals thrown in. He was twenty-four years old and the youngest bandleader.
Throughout its 40-year life this band would become the half-way house between
Alpha Boys Home and the world of professional music making for a number of
musicians musicians many of whom have subsequently become world-famous within popular music and jazz.
They were immediately successful as a result of the Cocoa Cola Company’s new
Sunday morning promotional shows at the Carib Theatre which employed the new band
with its new sound and after the first show contracted them for three months. The shows were simply called ‘The Coca-Cola Show’.
The young band acquired a following of young fans and Bebop became the music
of the day heralding a new kind of dancing, away from the foxtrots, waltzes and Swing of their parents and on to what they called ‘progressive’ dancing which reflected the improvisatory style of the music.
Bradshaw’s next entrepreneurial foray was the production of a four-page music
magazine called “The Music sheet” in 1952. With encouragement from friend Hartley
Neita, the ‘Music Sheet” was developed into a 20-page magazine called The Ivory
Magazine in conjunction with the Ivory Club, chaired by Vance Lannaman and of which
Neita was a member. After two editions the magazine ceased due to conflicts with
Lanaman; Bradshaw returned to his 4-page Music Sheet which came out monthly and
continued until 1955. At JBC he developed the Jamaica Hit Parade and became the main
supplier for the English market of Jamaican hits. Later, Bradshaw would become an
importer of the Farfisa Organ from Italy which can be heard on many Bradshaw
recordings and which was being used to replace the piano as bands became smaller and
had to be more flexible.
As a result of the success of the Norman Granz productions ‘Jazz at the
Philharmonic’ the Jazz Concert idea arrived in Jamaica in 1954 when Bradshaw and his
friend and piano player from the SB7 Lloyd Adams put on the first Jazz ‘concert’ at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. Previously he had put together at the request of empressario Stephen Hill an All-star band for Hill’s ‘celebrity Concerts’ which was to accompany stars, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Rae, and Johnny Mathis. This ‘Jazz Concert’ however, was to be a Carnegie Hall style event, in the manner of the Norman Granz productions, presenting music for listening as opposed to music for dancing. The programme included presentations of trios, quartets, quintets, the SB7 with Strings and bongos, and the Big Band (16-pieces) which has remained in existence to the present.
Note; The Milton McPherson Orchestra was a society band along with the Ivy
Graydon, Whylie Lopez and George Alberga bands. The ivory club was a group of
young professionals and civil servants who were music lovers. They met at the YWCA
on North street where the Ministry of Labour now sits. Copley Johnson was the Vice
chair. Lannaman went on to develop ‘Lannaman Shipping’ The Sonny Bradshaw Seven
accompanied Carmen McRae twice. The Big Band has subsequently been renamed The
Jamaica Big Band

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