Monty Alexander Speaks
MA: Yes, certainly, you’re right. I bring in the physicality of it. That’s because the Caribbean—or the West Indies as I call it—is me. That’s where I’m from, no less than Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, so many of the greats. The only difference is, I ain’t ashamed, pal. A lot of these great artists never said it...I don’t know, maybe in those times it was different. But if you look at New York, or Washington, a large portion of people of color in the big cities, in America, are now of Caribbean origin. So, now in a way it’s much easier for me. It comes with great pride. So adding these songs to the collection is just my way of saying I want to include this, offer it amidst the other great, great people. Ellington, Gershwin, you know I love all this music. I even love the cowboys—with a passion. Man, I could go into that for a week and tell you. ...But it’s not just the physicality. It’s the time also. A sort of kinder, gentler time when people were still struggling, but when they did their music it was a relief, kind of a resting place. Whereas when you hear a lot of new popular music its like something to beat this thing down into you...that life is hard, a struggle, that we have to fight.
FM: A lot of aggression.
MA: Exactly. Aggression, and ugliness. Whereas this music is ‘give me a rest’. Its like, if I take my ten dollars and go to a movie I want to have fun. I don’t want to be reminded of the ugliness. Which is why I hardly go to the movies anymore. So its not just jazz. It’s the whole culture, it’s driving this thing down, telling us how bad life is. See, now I’m talking to you with my own, I don’t know, I don’t always talk like this. But that’s the way it is. So when I get to the music, man, I want to forget all that. (Laughter)
FM: I did want to ask a bit about Shakur.
MA: I love this man. Because Hassan...J.J, as we used to call him, grew up hearing this music. He heard Ray[Brown] since he was six years old! He was this child prodigy playing the bass at six years old. And he, like Bob Cranshaw, like John Clayton, like Ray Brown, like all these wonderful bassists I’ve been honored to play with, these men have ears. You just play a chord and bam, they now what note to play. You know, I have hardly ever written a note of music on the bandstand to show these guys? You don’t have to write ‘nothin’ down. You just start playing and everyone knows what to do.
FM: Do you plan on recording with Hassan again?
MA: As long as they let me! Because ...Hassan, being a rhythm man, picks up on all those reggae lines and man, plays them with a passion. He’s got it. In fact, we just made a record that’ll be coming out next year. We’re very proud of it...We made a true rock- steady Jamaican album...
FM: Will that be on Telarc as well?
MA: Yes, it is. And I mean, man, when you put this on, you start getting’ the point right away...
FM: And I have to ask about Taylor because I have a special passion for the drums.
MA: Me too.
FM: So I always ask about the drummers.
MA: Let me tell you about Mark. Mark is this guy that comes from England, and I make special note of that because he wasn’t around N.Y.—and I’m saying this very carefully because I don’t want to sound like I think I know more than anyone else—but there was a whole N.Y. cerebral hip thing about ‘let’s keep up with the times, what’s the next thing we’re gonna do,’ and you’d get to the scene with all these incredibly talented younger musicians that went to the music schools, you know? Mark Taylor’s like me and Hassan. Guess where we got it? On the street corner! In the saloon, in the joint. Fourteen, fifteen years old watchin’ the guy on the bandstand. And if you’re lucky maybe going up to him and saying, ‘I sure would like to know you a little better’. You don’t even ask him about how he played the piano, you just watchin’, pickin’ it up until it gets down in the pours of your being. And this is what Mark Taylor is about. He is one of the last of the swingin’ jazz drummers who come from the true bebop tradition, yet at the same time, I can take him where I want to go...its just thrilling to have a drummer that has that rock-solid rhythm when he plays a pulsing jazz tempo...He’s not trying to be another Elvin. There’s only one Elvin. And there’s a whole host of people trying to follow that style, but that doesn’t come from ‘let me make your body shake’.
FM: Its true there aren’t that many. But there are a few...
MA: Let me tell you who they are...the drummer for Marselasis. He’s a baaad dude. And a lot of these New Orleans drummers like, Indrid Muhammad, but if you got a few, I’d like to know who they there are?