Monty Alexander with the Harlem-Kingston Express
The following two nights, February 23 and 24, spotlight the trio on Alexander's recent Uplift CD, along with special guests, the organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and guitarist Pat Martino. Alexander describes Smith as "one of my favorite musicians of all time. I know him from the '60s, actually. We used to play in all these joints at the same time. We have so much in common. Then I've got another man I've known from so far back, the most unique Pat Martino. Nobody plays like he does."
The theme for Saturday, February 25, is "Ivory and Steel: A Jazz Tribute to Trinidad." "I made a bunch of recordings in the '70s and '80s for Concord records, and this was straight-ahead jazz music but with a strong Trinidadian influence, because the steel drum was featured throughout. So, for 'Ivory and Steel'which is a play on the ivories of the piano and the metal in the steel drumI'm going to have some fabulous guests, Fullerton College Big Band, the steel drummer who used to play with me, and Etienne Charles, who is a truly outstanding Trinidadian musician and a graduate of Juilliard. A master trumpeter, he's keeping Trinidad's spirit alive."
The Sunday, February 26, show features singers Freddy Cole and Dee Dee Bridgewater, two longtime friends of Alexander's. This outing is dubbed "A Night at Jilly's," in honor of the New York nightclub that was an important place early in Alexander's career. "I was brought here in 1963 by none other than Jilly Rizzo, the guy who ran the club, and his very best friend, Mr. Frank Sinatra. That's how I got to New York, because of Sinatra and Jilly. And I played there for three years." The last two nights of the jazz shows, on the 27th and 28th, feature Alexander in trio setting, a reunion with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. The three performed together on an especially memorable live recording, The Monty Alexander Trio: Live at the Montreux Festival (MPS, 1976). "These guys have gone on to have fruitful and rich careers as leaders, really, inspiring young guys, keeping this music alive."
As excited as he was to talk about the first week of The Blue Note series, Alexander was ecstatic about the Jamaican music shows in the second week. Why? "Because that's home. H-O-M-E, home. Jamaica is the place where I grew up. I have stayed in touch with it, and the roots of that music are like blood in my veins. I hear it, I feel it, and it makes me overjoyed. I'm joyful about my roots in Jamaica.
"I have the pleasure of inviting some of these guys who are in the world of Jamaican music the true icons. We first start out with the rhythmic duo of Sly and Robbie. And Sly and Robbie areI don't know how else to put it, but they're the cats. They're the kings of this music. And they've recorded with people from outside of Jamaica, too: Bob Dylan and Serge Gainsbourg and all these amazing people, but the roots of what they do is Jamaica. And I have a special guest with them, on the first of March comes one of our most beloved characters and incredible artist of what he does, Shaggy." In fact, Shaggy is among the other Grammy nominees Alexander is competing with this yearin the reggae categoryalong with Ziggy Marley, Stephen Marley, and the Israel Vibrations.
The Harlem-Kingston Express is featured again on the last two nights at The Blue Note, March 3 and 4. "On the final night," says Alexander, "I will invite another marvelous Jamaican reggae artist known as Diana King. And alsopeople like to say he's the 'new Bob Marley'a man named Tarrus Riley."