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Monday, April 21, 2008

Sonny Bradshaw


Sonny's Theme

The following appeared in the Outlook magazine of the Sunday Gleaner April 20

In the 1950s, the Sonny Bradshaw Seven were famous not only for their dexterity as big band performers, but also because their creator - Bradshaw himself - arranged their productions to sound just like the 14-piece big bands of the day.

Now, almost 60 years in the business, Sonny Bradshaw is a musical genius who taught himself to read music and play the trumpet - all coming out of a love of knowing how things work and how they were put together.

As a child growing up in Kingston, he would visit the junior library downtown to get the latest issue of Popular Mechanics, out of which he learnt to make his own radio and listen to the new music that was not yet popular on the island. He was later to integrate these new sounds into the repertoire of his band, and attract an increasingly large following because of it.

On March 28, Bradshaw celebrated his 81st birthday in London, having a grand old time with wife, jazz singer Myrna Hague, and dear friend old Andy Hamilton, (90 and just awarded his MBE - Member of the Order of the British Empire) who celebrated his 'earth day' around the same time. Bradshaw took his trumpet with him.

Frequent interruptions

"There is nothing to do but keep playing," the veteran musician told Outlook in this March interview. The frequent interruptions from the telephone were answered with his greeting "Sonny in Jamaica, 2008." Bradshaw is so happy to be alive and doing what he loves best - organising the jazz summer season in Jamaica - that his ebullience infects everything he does.

He jokes frequently about death and declares that he no longer celebrates birthdays and, in fact, was stuck for many years at age 60.

The entry to his home in Kingston is through his music studios, which also function as archives for a collection of trumpets, other musical instruments, the memorabilia of 60 years, and piles of sheet music. He uses a computer to play the tunes which lubricate his thoughts and also to track his favourite talk shows.

"I want to keep up with the thinking. In my young days you had people called 'warners' on the street corners, who would say that the world is coming to an end. What I discover is that the world you live in comes to an end and a new one comes again."

The world into which Bradshaw was born was one of clattering trams and horses ridden proudly, by those who owned them, through streets of post-world war Kingston. He was the only child for dad, Edgar Bradshaw, and mother Gladys, until his sister Marion was born when he was 20.

Sonny was sent to the Central Branch Conservatorium and then to Kingston Technical High School on Hanover Street. He was not lucky enough, he said, to go to Alpha where boys were taught music. "I was an outsider."

He was an outsider, but he loved to read. Every day he would visit the library with friend Horace Galbraith, where they would read any new detective novel available and then move on to their favourite magazine - Popular Mechanics. They would also devour any other books that had electronics in it. Soon, the friends started experimenting in making their own radios, creating instruments which allowed them to listen to broadcasts outside of Jamaica, including Cuban stations and the BBC. It was the music, however, which they loved.

His first trumpet

Sonny left Kingston Technical to work at Montaque's Musique on Tower Street. He was happy to be among the instrument every day, but he also wanted to play. Acquiring his first trumpet (it was the instrument he could get and the one he came to love), Sonny says his first big break came through Roy White, a teacher at Kingston Technical, and whose band rehearsed on Beeston Street.

"We all used to go and listen. My father asked him for a spot for me and I got it."

But, Sonny did not stay too long.

"You know ... when you are young and they are playing old music."

White's band was playing Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Bradshaw wanted to blow to the music of Henry James.

It was impresario Eric Deans who provided him with the opportunity he wanted, when he invited Bradshaw to join his band comprised of 90 per cent Alpha boys "who could all read music very well". But Bradshaw could read it as well. He had taught himself. He was also hearing music on the radio that the Alpha-ites knew nothing about.

He left in 1950 when he formed the first Sonny Bradshaw Seven, which rapidly earned fame based on its improbable 14-piece sound. Bradshaw had also found his legs as a talented arranger.

Among the first group was trombonist Herman Wilson, Lloyd Adam on piano, Carl Stephen on upright bass, a drummer called Goldson, and singer Winston Tate. Sister Ignatius from Alpha gave the group a saxophonist - Joe Harriot - who would later go on to become an international great.

The Seven got their first break when they were invited to take the midnight slot at Forrester's Hall in Kingston. Bradshaw, from that moment until today, became known as the 'Progressive Jazz Man'. The music in Jamaica was changing and he merrily massaged it along.

Dressed in their white suits and red beret, the Sonny Bradshaw Seven were playing difficult music which was not being played by older bands on the road, and also travelled abroad with their avant-garde arrangements to Canada, South America, Central America and the wider Caribbean, later accompanying big names like Tommy Mathis, Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke.

They did tours on behalf of the Jamaica Tourist Board and travelled to Cayman, Canada, the United States and Mexico.

"Tourism was good for the Sonny Bradshaw Seven," Sonny declares. Many weekends were also spent in Montego Bay playing.

While the band evolved, Bradshaw was also engaged in transforming attitudes towards music in Jamaica.

Good profession

"Parents did not want their children involved in entertainment. They wanted them to get a good profession. I think I may have been a part of changing that," he reflects.

"We turned the band into a business so that we could live, and live well. In the early days, we used to ride our bicycle, then we got a car and then a bus."

Later, it was not only their businesslike example which made a difference. Bradshaw was also involved in the Performing Rights Society (known today as intellectual property). Truthfully, on almost anything to do with music, including the new Jamaica School of Music, he was involved.

Bradshaw was the Jamaica Federation of Musicians president who reduced the playing time of big bands from an exhausting eight hours to four hours for each engagement.

With his band mates he also initiated the school band competition featuring trumpets, saxophones, flute, mouth organ and anything that could be played.

Sonny Bradshaw was also instrumental in popularising indigenous music, first through his Teenage Dance Party aired in the 1970s on JBC Radio.

"I played mostly Jamaican music. I was the person who opened the door. RJR, back then, was playing the top 40 from America. I introduced the Jamaica Hit Parade."

He also started the Tastee Talent Competition in Cross Roads - a fact which most seem to have forgotten.

Jamaican music took over, he said, and jazz fell by the way. To make up for this, Bradshaw and his wife, Myrna Hague, have - in the last two decades - run a summer jazz festival in Ocho Rios.

The show was started 18 years ago when, as Bradshaw says, jazz was getting a beating. When his wife said to him one day, 'why don't we have a jazz festival?', they together arranged an event for Father's Day.

It was well received and expanded into a three-day event. The annual show is now an eight-day event in the Garden Parish.

Bradshaw, admitting to how influential he was in the music, says he blames himself for dancehall. "It shouldn't have gone that way."

But, he makes himself content, as he states, "The world goes right around and comes back. After dancehall, it will go into something else."

New jazz artistes, he states, are unknown because the radio never plays them. But with 21 radio stations in existence, he still holds out hope.

Writing music remains Bradshaw's real passion.

"I can write down anything I hear or can think up," says the man who created the controversial 'big bands' version of the National Anthem.

He keeps writing and playing and, at home and on the road, wife Myrna is his right hand, as she is his.


Bradshaw's children are Karen Hall-Bradshaw, who works with Air Jamaica, and son Carey Bradshaw, who lives in New York, working in information technology. Daughter Bridgette Bradshaw was executed by a boyfriend who killed himself . His very first child, Christian, died of natural causes long ago.

Among his children and nine grandchildren, Bradshaw complains, "Nobody is playing anything."

But, he has other 'sons', including trumpet player and singer Mussi Richards, trumpeter Dean Fraser, who lived in his young years with the Bradshaw family when his mom migrated, Desi Jones, who started out as a conga man, and Willie Lindo.

Bradshaw lives every day for music and the company of Myrna. "The music keeps us going."

The doctor has told him, he said, that there is water in his heart. But there is nothing wrong with his mouth and so he keeps playing.

"I have not lost my teeth. They seem to be holding up."

He will continue playing the trumpet as long as he can, and when that is gone, he will play piano for his wife, who he describes as among the greatest of jazz singers and who tours with him as her piano player.

"The only time we'll stop is when we drop down," Bradshaw declares

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Holy Trinity Restoration Jazz Evening

The fair-sized crowd that converged on the lawns of the Roman Catholic Archbishop’s residence in Kingston on Sunday encompassed the full spectrum of interests: jazz neophytes and casual concert-goers, members of the Catholic faith out to support the cause of their sister church (the proceeds are directed to the ongoing restoration work at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street); fellow musicians (including Skatalites vet Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore) and hardcore jazz aficionados

By night’s end, none of those groups could in any way claim to be disappointed, as the music that unfolded on the stage over the course of about three hours managed the rare feat of satisfying a variety of tastes without comprising - too much - on artistic integrity.
A prime example was the Kingsley Depass Trio, comprising Depass on violin, his brother Stephen on electric bass and Andre Campbell on keyboards. DePass employed a delightfully unconventional style (including simultaneously plucking the neck of the instrument while also bowing the base) that found favour with an audience hitherto largely unfamiliar with the young journeyman. He had a more than worthy foil in Campbell, who brought the two-handed mastery of an Art Tatum into the modern era.
“My Favourite Things” gave way to “Sweet Georgia Brown” and to “Blue Bossa” each selection having snippets of other tunes tucked into the folds of the solos.

Looking fit, fresh and relaxed, main act Dizzy Reece traded in some of his well-known intransigence and stoicism for an engaging demeanour (he spoke to the audience of his pleasure at being in Jamaica to perform and took time to introduce his tunes) as he delivered a ‘playbook’ level rendition of standards. He started with “No Greater Love,”
but it was his near-transcendent “Body and Soul” that was most representative of his mastery - his playing, with calculated bursts of notes, elucidated the difference between dram and bombast that escapes many of our young musicians today.

Karen Smith is perhaps the only female vocalist in Jamaica that could get away with singing the sultry Peggy Lee signature “Fever” in front of two Roman Catholic Archbishops, but after opening with “On A Clear Day[You Can See Forever]” she did just that. What followed might have been put down to a ‘yet another polished, professional Karen Smith show save for an inspired combination with keyboardist Chris McDonald on the Andrea Bocelli-Celine Dion tearjerker, “My Prayer”
Mickey Hanson offered a varied programme encompassing blues, jazz, contemporary pop and bossa in the form of “Recado”

The ‘Iron Man’ award for the evening went collectively to the Skool band, led from the back by drummer Desi Jones and including the aforementioned McDonald, Othneil Lewis on keys, Dale Haslam on bass, and the continually amazing Rohan Reid, who overcame some early audio glitches to really shine on guitar (his “On Broadway” was particularly on point). Save for the DePasse trio, Skool was on stage for the duration of the show, and Reid and Lewis, in particular, appeared to have established some simpatico with Reece in the undoubtedly short time available.
Kudos also to the production co-ordinators, Ricardo Chin Productions for the show (and a good job at the helm by Michael Anthony Cuffe) and for the amenities.
If the Committee for the Restoration of Holy Trinity is any thing as resourceful financially as the musicians proved themselves, then the Kingston landmark should be gleaming inside and out in no time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Latest auditions - Soul Sitrring

The cover image wasn't avaialable, but New Orleans drummer and polyglot Stanton Moore (Galactic, Garage a Trois)pictured here, brings his jazz-rock-funk-roadhouse sensibilities to bear on 11 stirring tunes in hsi latest CD, Emphasis (on Parenthesis) - so named because all the titles have a section (a few quite funny) in brackets.

Speaking of stirring, this one's not really jazz, but the Biblical Beatitudes gets a modern progressive treatment courtesy of Michael Sean harris and Michael Holgate, who collectively record as Joy Mechanics. Some interesting arrangements. Its avaialble on CD baby and form Blu Vista Music.

Ocho Rios Jazz Artiste feature- Yolanda Brown

She should be one of the real finds this year. Check the MySpace for some great performance pics and songs

YolanDa Brown

Website: www.yolandabrown.co.uk
Myspace: www.myspace.com/missyolandabrown
EPK: www.sonicbids.com/yolandabrown

Saxophonist YolanDa Brown is considered by many to be one of a kind.

To hear YolanDa play music is to know her…

From very early musical beginnings she has come to make the Tenor and Soprano Saxophones her very own.

YolanDa Brown expresses her innermost feelings through her music and in so doing, never fails to rise to the next level with each performance. A belief in the open truth of music has seen her develop a wide genre vocabulary and songbook, backed by an undeniably awesome performance talent.

YolanDa is as comfortable re-interpreting a current chart-topper, as she is reprising a Jazz standard or launching into an original composition. Always in evidence is her raw emotion which as become synonymous with the YolanDa Brown sound.

Born and raised in London, YolanDa Brown has grown up surrounded by an eclectic mix of music, the influences of which can be heard in every breath she plays and in every note she writes.

She references Jazz, Afro-Jazz, Gospel, Reggae, Salsa, Hip-hop, R&B, with consummate ease, even going back to Mento throughout her performances, but her style and phrasing always remains her own.

With such a musically diverse DNA to her soul, is it any wonder that YolanDa Brown touches so many people through the voice of her music!

In conjunction with her music, YolanDa Brown has completed a Masters in Management Science, as well as a Masters in Social Research Methods and is currently studying for her PhD at the University of Kent. She also fronted a TV talk show on a Sky Channel.

YolanDa Brown has performed in numerous venues including: Jazz Café, Café de Paris, St. Martin in- the- Fields, Smollensky's on the Strand, Mermaid Theatre, Cargo, The Broadway Theatre and Hackney Empire.

A worldwide performer, she has also played for the High Commission in Jamaica, Jazz venues in Miami, the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Rotterdam Carnival and the IslaVuelta festival in Spain, to name but a few.

The release of YolanDa Brown's debut EP, entitled "Finding My Voice" and her sold out debut concert at the Mermaid Theatre London in July 2007, were both met with rave reviews from press and her ever growing fan base.

We now await with great anticipation the DVD release of that magical evening.

YolanDa Brown has worked with artists ranging from MOBO Awards Best Album Singer Terri Walker to Mercury Music Prize Saxophonist Soweto Kinch, Chicago Star Brenda Edwards, Jazz Calypso Legend Russ Henderson MBE and Queen of Lovers Rock Janet Kay to name a few...

In response to overwhelming popular demand, YolanDa Brown held her second solo concert on Saturday 8th December 2007, at the prestigious Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square, London. The show at a venue twice the capacity of her debut concert, was also sold out.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Latest auditions

Got 2 new discs this past week, one by purchase, one courtesy of our friends at Heads Up Intl Records.
the latter, Palmystery by Victor Wooten, showcases the well-travelled bassist's zest for life and spiritual searching, in addition - of course - to his blazing talent and technique.

Another blazing talent - on drums - is Ari Hoenig, whose band on The Painter includes Caribbean-bron saxist Jacques Schwarz-bart, and physicist-turned pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, who performed here in Kingston (Ward theatre) a few years back.

Riffin': In Memoriam

Sad, Sad news to lose photographic ace Ken Ramsay. The sports world in particular will not be the same without him.

Missed Monday's Miles feature (computer glitches on our part), but the rest of the Riffin' Week looks just as good




MONDAY: The Genius Of Miles Davis: “Cookin” with one of the best Miles Davis Quintet’s, with John Coltrane,Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Jo Jones.

TUESDAY: The Best Of The West: Jazz and Classical music meet on equitable terms.

WEDNESDAY: Two Bass Hit: Electric bassists, Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller, strut their stuff.

THURSDAY: Cachao Descargas: The Havana jam sessions by the late Is Rael “cachao” Lopez, the pioneering Cuban bassist, who invented the mambo in 1939.

FRIDAY: Reggae music, has to reckon with a new songwriter, singer , Taj Weekes, who avoids clichés, and brings fresh insight into the craft.