Monty visits Wareika Hill

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Wareika Hill is the title of a new album by famed pianist, Monty Alexander. A Caribbean take on 11 songs originally done by jazz legend and pianist Thelonious Monk, the set is scheduled for release on Friday by MACD Records.

In a promotional video for the album, Alexander described Monk as “a unique man of his own direction”.

He added that Monk was influenced by the culture of Caribbean people he grew up with in the San Juan Hill area of New York, where his family settled after leaving their native North Carolina.

Blue Monk, Bempsha Swing, and Straight No Chaser are some of the Monk standards Alexander puts a reggae or ska feel to. Monk co-wrote Bempsha Swing with Denzil Best, the accomplished American drummer whose parents were from Barbados.

According to Alexander, “I made an album of Thelonious' music but put my coconuts on it. Coconuts and bananas, and some mangoes too.”

Thelonious Monk is one of the colossal figures of jazz. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, his virtuoso stylings made the music popular among the elite during the 1940s and the choice of sound for the rebellious beat generation a decade later.

He was one of the marquee artistes signed to Blue Note, a label which became a prolific source of straight-ahead jazz from the 1930s to the 1970s. Monk died in 1982 at age 64 after suffering a stroke.

Born in Kingston, Monty Alexander started his career in the 1960s as a session musician at Studio One in Jamaica's capital. He was discovered by Frank Sinatra while playing at a club in Miami in 1962 when he was 18 years old.

Sinatra recommended Alexander to Jilly Rizzo, his close friend who owned Jilly's, a top flight jazz club in Manhattan. Alexander played there from 1963-66, and by the 1970s was established as one of the stars of jazz.

In recent years, Alexander has revisted his Jamaican roots by working with guitarist Ernie Ranglin, the drum and bass team of Sly and Robbie and the Kingston to Harlem Express — a collective of Jamaican and American musicians.


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