Entertainment

‘Sparrow’ keeps the beat at Alpha

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Thursday, April 10, 2014    

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IT'S been over 50 years since Winston 'Sparrow' Martin learned to play the drums at the Alpha Boys' School. Now in his late '60s, he is still there, teaching music and encouraging students to stay the straight and narrow.

Martin's 28-year tenure as music director at the famed Kingston institution seemed in jeopardy when Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna announced Tuesday that, "antisocial and psychotic behaviour" at the 135-year-old institution has made it impossible to continue housing hundreds of boys.

Martin says because of the school's remarkable music history, it was widely believed his department would be closed. That is not the case, he said during an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"It's not breaking down. The music programme is still there. It will always be there," he said.

Alpha's South Camp Road location house over 100 boys and all of Martin's charges live at the location. Most play horns, an hallmark of its music programme. Despite the negative revelations given for the school's pending closure, Martin says his students, whose ages range from eight to 16, remain focused.

"They are willing to learn, there's a lot of enthusiasm and dedication. That's very important."

Those traits have been part of Alpha's music system since its inception over 100 years ago. They helped develop numerous musicians who passed through the institution's hallowed halls, including trombonist Don Drummond, saxophonists Tommy McCook and Lester Sterling of the Skatalites, trumpeters Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore and David Madden, drummer Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace, and singers Johnny Osbourne and Leroy Smart.

Martin entered Alpha in the early 1950s, and was tutored by Reuben Delgado and Lennie Hibbert. Initially, he learned to play the trumpet but eventually switched to drums.

He played on The Wailers' hit song Stir it Up and Negril, American guitarist Eric Gale's acclaimed jazz/reggae album.

Yet, he is best known for his work as a mentor at Alpha. Ska Rebirth, a nine-piece band he founded and leads, comprises his former students.

Like many past students, Martin considers Alpha more than a school for music.

"Is a school that help a lot of youth. Alpha prepared us for the world," he said.

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