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Waving the Jamaican flag overseas

Thursday, August 16, 2012    

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While Jamaicans at home found the flag in their hearts and waved it during the Independence period, many others continued on the mission to lift the Jamaicans flag and touch lives overseas.

Three Jamaicans who made their country proud were Ron Cunningham, Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto-based Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD); internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist Monty Alexander who was honoured in Germany and late musician Tommy McCook who had made Atlanta, Georgia his home.

Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal for Ron Cunningham

Cunningham received the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee Medal of Honour, along with a special Certificate of Recognition from the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's Accession to the Throne and in recognition of the Jamaican's contribution to Canada.

Cunningham who hails from Granville in St James, co-founded CACD to impact the lives of children and youth in Cooksville, Dixie and Hurontario neighbourhoods in Mississauga, Canada and Jamaica through a variety of social programmes aimed at "taking the youth off the streets and making them viable members of the community, sharing and assisting in developing the skills that are required to create a significant difference, create a supportive environment for youth at risk, and enhance their self-esteem".

Cunningham said his programme would help to promote a climate that allows for the development of personal goals and high expectations, respect for self and others, personal accountability for one's own actions, well-earned pride in accomplishments, a strong work ethic, and an understanding of how academic success can lead to expanded career options.

Prior to his work with CACD, he worked in the Chief Accountant and Corporate Finance Divisions of the Bank of Montreal (BMO), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS), Banca Commerciale Italiana of Canada (BCI) and Royal Trust, a subsidiary of Royal Bank (RBC).

Cunningham was previously recognised by Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion for his exemplary work in community development, and in November 2005, he was awarded a Peace Medallion by the YMCA of the Greater Toronto Area for his work in peace and development. He also worked on a research paper for the University for Peace, a United Nations affiliate called Capacity Building for Peace and Development, addressing 'Challenges and Opportunities Encountered by the Jamaican Diaspora in impacting peace-building and development'. In September 2010, he received the Ron Lenyk Crime Prevention Volunteer of the Year Award from the City of Mississauga and 2011 Ontario Volunteer Services Award.

Cunningham has served as treasurer on the board of the Brampton Neighbourhood Resource Centre. He has also served as the coordinator of the Trade and Business Committee of the Jamaica Diaspora Canadian Foundation (JDCF).

German Jazz Trophy for Monty Alexander

"Monty Alexander is one of the most popular Jazz musicians of the last decades and a pioneer of the Caribbean-American style fusions," said the jury which awarded him the prestigious German Jazz Trophy - A life for Jazz, in Stuttgart, Germany recently.

The trophy which honours a musician whose life's work "constantly gives Jazz new impulses and supports its significant value", is awarded by Sparda Bank of Barden Wuerttemberg's Art and Cultural Foundation, the Jazz-Zeitung newspaper and the Music & Word Cultural Society (Kulturgesellschaft Musik+Wort).

Monty Alexander, 68, received his award and then performed for an appreciative audience at the concert hall of the Stuttgart Public University of Music and Performing Arts.

In its 13 years of existence, the trophy had previously been awarded to five pianists: Paul Kuhn, Wolfgang Dauner, Dick Hyman, Carla Bley and Jacques Loussier, making Monty the sixth.

Prior to receiving the award, he had performed with the Monty Alexander Trio and alongside Jamaican musical legends Sly & Robbie and Ernest Ranglin at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of world Cultures) in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2012 on their world tour.

Monty was recognised as one who "expresses himself beyond the swing idiom in calypso style, ska, reggae, modern jazz, funk and other genres with similar virtuosity and conviction".

Reading the citation to the pianist, Andreas Kolb noted that at the beginning of the 70s he had produced albums including "We've only just begun", "Rass" and "Perception" in the Black Forest. International success followed soon after.

"Monty Alexander was hired by the London Ronnie Scott's Club. He was asked to play in Montreux and was sideman to Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. In such way, the man from Kingston, who at some point had been hired by All Star combos like the Dizzy Gillespie ensemble at Carnegie Hall, became one of the best-known so-called mainstream pianists at the end of the 70s" he said.

"Montgomery Bernhard Alexander grew up during a time marked by the end of colonialism before reggae music - Jamaica's musical logo - had not yet been invented. His Christian name Montgomery is due to the invasion of Northern France by the Allies under the command of the British field marshal Montgomery on his birthday, June 6, 1944. His mother played some piano. But as many other jazzmen, Alexander was learning 'his' music by the radio, where he listened to Nat King Cole and boogie classics in his early years. "When he was five was keen on playing by ear. Later on he was also given classical piano lessons which he struggled with, and, at the age of fourteen - by then he was playing some challenging pieces by Chopin - he threw in the towel. From then guest performances by Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson and Eddle Heywood had a profound effect on his musical development. A Louis Armstrong concert he witnessed when he was nine was almost driving him off the piano: he wanted to learn to play the trumpet. However - and fortunately, from today's point of view -, the instrument did not suit him. Alexander stayed with the piano."

Said Kolb: "Monty Alexander is one of the most skillful and entertaining players of the piano that the instrument has experienced over those past decades."

Tommy McCook's memorablia for Atlanta, Jamaica

At a presentation in Atlanta recently, some of the memorabilla of the late legendary, musical icon Tommy McCook was handed over to Atlanta-based Jamaican Connie Witter for display in the US city's Institute of Black Arts.

McCook and his family had resided for a significant period of the musician's life.

Some of the memorablia will also be presented to the Alpha Boys' Academy, where McCook attended school and to the Institute of Jamaica, according to the daughter of Iris McCook (his widow).

Former Prime Minister of Jamaica P J Patterson, regarded as a personal friend of McCook's, is to be asked to make the presentations, to the Alpha Boys' Academy.

Yatima Merci Muhammad, step-daughter of the late icon and who resides in The Gambia, Africa, handed over the memorablia during the recent Atlanta Caribbean Spring Festival.

"...It is the wish of the family that some of these artifacts be displayed at the Alpha Boys' Academy and in the Institute of Jamaica in memory of Tommy's musical contribution to the country and also as part of Jamaica's 50 years of independence," she told the Jamaica Observer.

In tribute to McCook, a Jamaican mento band consisting of members who played alongside the great icon himself travelled from Jamaica to Atlanta and performed in his honour.

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