|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.”
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.
Best Jazz Vocal Album
The Mosaic Project
Terri Lyne Carrington & Various Artists
[Mack Avenue Records]
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
The Good Feeling
Christian McBride Big Band
[Mack Avenue Records]
40 Acres And A Burro
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
Gerald Wilson Orchestra
[Mack Avenue Records]
Harlem-Kingston Express Live!
Best Instrumental Composition
Track from: Timeline
[Mack Avenue Records
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Vince Mendoza)
Track from: Nights On Earth
While names such as Abercrombie, Scofield, Lovano, Werner, Mintzer and Erskine represent the jazzier side of Mendoza’s community of artists (they appeared on his 1990 Blue Note album Start Here and his 1991 follow-up for the label, Instructions Inside), musicians like Souza, del Curto, Diakite and Ziad represent his adventurous explorations into world music (as on 1992’s Jazzpana and more recently on 2009’s Viento: The Garcia Lorca Project).
“I have an affinity with these musicians and their music, as they also have with my writing,” says Mendoza. “I wanted to incorporate them into my compositions, to frame their voice in an interesting way. And I thought they would have a connection to my writing style in their improvisations.”
In Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music), saxophonist, composer and arranger Miguel Zenón brings that jazz tradition home – his home.
The album is comprised of 10 pieces, two each by Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach, who Zenón refers to as “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song,” and it features his regular quartet augmented by a 10-piece wind ensemble. The music was arranged by Zenón and orchestrated by Argentine pianist, composer and arranger Guillermo Klein.
“This project grew out of my interest in exploring the history and development of The Puerto Rican song,” says Zenón in a news release. “… I started focusing on the similar characteristics between The Puerto Rican Songbook and The Great American Songbook, not only musically, but also in terms of cultural impact. From there on, the project started to take shape.”
Zenón has explored his musical heritage previously in albums such as Jibaro (2005), in which he revisited the country music of Puerto Rico, and last year’s Esta Plena, in which he reinterpreted the traditional plena style.
“These are songs I know well because either my parents listened to them or they were very popular when I was a kid, so I grew up listening to them,” he says and, he notes, he’s not alone. “We have been playing some of these songs with the quartet for awhile, and after every concert we have people who come to tell us ‘You know, my mom used to listen to that song on the radio…’ or ‘I used to hear that song when I was younger…’.”
But in Alma Adentro the subject is popular song – and it transcends regionalisms.The wind ensemble and Zenón’s core quartet – Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; and Henry Cole, drums – were recorded in the same room, live.
“Very often when I play this type of material I’m thinking about the lyrics to the song,” he says. “In this case these are songs I know well so it’s actually difficult for me not to think about the lyrics. But eventually, you internalize the words and make it more your own, then it becomes something much more personal.”
Remaking popular songs is part of the stock in trade of a jazz musician, but Alma Adentro was a profoundly different experience for Zenón.
“This was not just about melodies and harmonies,” he says. “There was a deeper, more emotional connection here. I grew up with these songs and they all had a very special and lasting effect on me.”