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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jazz 4 Alpha - My Review

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Gift Presentation to Alpha Boys


It was enough, almost, to see a clutch of Alpha Boys School students and alumni, of various ages, gathered on the dimly lit stage of the Sir Phillip Sherlock Centre at the UWI Mona campus on Monday night; to see – and hear – a trombone line four players strong; to hear a ‘rising star’ of improvised music like trumpeter Shaniel Stewart skip across the register and begin to own his instrument and his sound in a manner that recalled the greats whose tradition he has inherited.

The presentation which celebrated and augmented that tradition also saw a brief duet from pianist Dr Kathy Brown and alto man (and Alpharian himself ) Tony Greene reliving the music, if not the moment of the maestros in tunes like Eastern Standard Time and Rockfort Rock.

And the treasures did not come solely from the live performers. There was knowledge, from the erudite former Jamaican Ambassador to the US, Richard Bernal, who expounded on the heritage of his alma mater, the New York City-based New School University (specifically the School for Social Research), which also houses the School for Jazz and Contemporary Music came the musical instruments and equipment that were donated. The was a short, sharp commentary from the Don Drummond Foundation’s Dr Clinton Hutton on the need to intensify the culturally-oriented social interventions of an Alpha Boys’ programme in the face of the nation’s mounting crisis of violence and underdevelopment.

And there was, from former New School faculty member, jazz club owner, record producer, artiste manager, and music lover Herbie Miller, and excellent audiovisual slide presentation on the development and worldwide impact of several Alpha alumni, most notably Joe Harriott and the enigma that is Don Drummond. The benefit of the addition of the audio clips, while certainly a must given the subject, cannot be overstated. The real beauty of the music, especially in Drummond’s case, is that labels become superfluous: there’s no need to call it dance music – the very sound itself is a dance, the lines skip and dart and pirouette so fluidly over the rhythms.

It’s the kind of music and the kind of erudition that deserved a far wider audience than turned up at the Centre – the room was scarcely half filled. But hopefully, there will be opportunities, especially in this Jazz Month, for repeat engagements on whatever scale. The young charges at the Alpha Boys, some wielding horns that were almost bigger than them, deserve some kind of audience for their dedication to walk in the giant footsteps of generations past.

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