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Pianist Monty Alexander celebrates 50 years in music with two-week engagement at Blue Note

Monty Alexander Photo by:  Alan Nahigian

In a career spanning five decades, pianist Monty Alexander has distinctively bridged the worlds of jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica. With over 70 albums to his name, Alexander celebrates his 50th year in music with an ambitious, two-week engagement at New York’s Blue Note, on Monday, February 20 through Sunday, March 4.

 Alexander will present the engagement in two parts: Part 1 – The Full Monty: 50 Years in Music! (February 23 – 28) and Part 2 – Jamaica Meets Jazz – A One Love Celebration (February 29 – March 4). The featured body of work and lineup will vary throughout the engagement, with each evening focusing on a project from Alexander’s extensive career (six projects total will be presented throughout the engagement). Special guests throughout the two weeks include Russell Malone, Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Pat Martino, Freddie Cole, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ernest Ranglin, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, and Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, among others.

“I derive great personal joy and satisfaction from being able to present music that can bring out people of all persuasions and life styles,” says Alexander in a news release, “from Kingston, Jamaica to New York and the rest of the world – that’s my Harlem-Kingston Express train. That is what this Blue Note booking is all about.”
Part 1 of the engagement will kick off on February 20 with a performance by one of Alexander’s working ensembles, Harlem-Kingston Express, featuring special guest, guitarist Ernest Ranglin. They will perform music from their Grammy Award nominated debut, Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! (Motéma Music – released in June 2011).
On February 21 and 22, Alexander will bring back his long-standing Triple Treat project. Originally consisting of guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown (a group that toured and recorded together throughout much of the 80s), Alexander will reinvigorate the trio in a program titled “Triple Treat Revisited,” featuring one of the “living descendants” of Brown, bassist Christian McBride, as well as guitarist Russell Malone, who appeared on Brown’s last recording, along with Alexander.
Alexander’s Uplift! trio project (stemming from the March 2011 Jazz Legacy Productions release of the same name) will perform on February 23 and 24, featuring organist Lonnie Smith and guitarist Pat Martino respectively. On February 25 will showcase Ivory & Steel, a project that reflects the music of Trinidad and the steel drum tradition (much like the Iron & Steel group Alexander led in the 70’s and 80’s).  
With “A Night at Jilly’s” on February 26, Alexander will honor the first jazz club he performed in when he arrived to New York City from Jamaica in 1963 – Jilly’s. It was here that Alexander began to establish himself on the U.S. scene. During his three year’s at the club, he had the privilege of accompany the great Frank Sinatra.  Special guests for the evening will include vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Freddie Cole.
Closing out Part 1 of Alexander’s engagement will be “The Montreux Alexander ’76 Trio Reunion” on February 27 and 28, dedicated to one of the pianist’s most celebrated albums, Montreux Alexander: The Monty Alexander Trio Live! at the Montreux Festival. The show will feature the original trio, with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
Alexander goes directly to his Jamaican roots with Part 2 of the engagement. On February 29-March 2, Alexander will present “Monty meets Sly & Robbie,” performances with drummer Sly Dunbarand bassist Robbie Shakespeare. Sly & Robbie are two of reggae’s most recognized trailblazers and collaborated with Alexander on his album, Monty Meets Sly & Robbie. The pianist will conclude the engagement by bringing back his Harlem-Kingston Express group for two final nights on March 3 and 4. Special guests for these performance dates are TBA.  

Alexander has been on the express track and now, in this 50th year of phenomenal musicianship, he shows no sign of slowing down. In 1961, the urban sophistication of jazz and the American songbook, and an invitation to accompany none other than Frank Sinatra, lured the teen prodigy Alexander away from Jamaica and the art form most associated with that nation. The move led to an extraordinary career in jazz, reggae and popular song including collaboration with greats such as Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby and Bobby McFerrin.