Mashing together hard bop swing with the Caribbean one drop rhythms of his native Jamaica, pianist Monty Alexander has carved his own prominent and infectious place in the jazz landscape.
For more than fifty years, Alexander has explored the boundaries of jazz and reggae, creating a hybrid that embraces both traditions while creating something wholly unique and vibrant.
Alexander’s wide breadth of musicality is staggering. In the course of any given performance, Alexander spans a program that includes jazz and Jamaican musical expression—the American songbook and the blues, gospel and bebop, calypso and reggae. Throughout his career he has bounced between these genres, but in more recent years, has found a way to integrate all his influences into one unique voice.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1944, Alexander first started playing piano around age four and took classical lessons from age six. By his teens, however, he had discovered jazz and was already performing in nightclubs. In 1961, he moved with his family to Miami, Florida to better pursue his musical ambitions, and soon after that moved to New York City to play as the house pianist at the infamous Sintatra-associated Jilly’s nightclub. For the next several years, Alexander lived in New York and worked at Jilly’s, where had the opportunity to befriend and perform with a bevy of stars including Sinatra, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, and others. Buoyed by this success, he recorded several well-received hard bop records for the Pacific Jazz label, followed by stints on RCA and Verve. In the 70’s and 80’s Alexander began fusing elements of his native Caribbean folk music, including collaborations with iconic Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. It was also during this time that he began an incredibly fruitful relationship with the lauded duo of bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamiltion, who he would collaborate with on and off for the next several decades. In more recent years, Alexander has doubled down on his Jamaican roots, releasing several straight-ahead reggae albums (including a Bob Marley tribute), and collaborating with Jamaican legends Sly & Robbie. In 2000, Alexander’s artistic achievements were recognized by the Jamaican government with his designation as a worldwide music ambassador and as Commander in the Order of Distinction for outstanding services to Jamaica.
With more than seventy albums under his belt, not including another forty as a sideman, Monty Alexander has enjoyed an impressively prolific recording career. In recent years, his Harlem-Kingston Express live albums (Vol. 1 & 2) have vaulted the pianist back in the limelight, with critics and fans alike praising the intricate and funky fusion of jazz and Caribbean rhythms.
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