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Jazz: Barbados Style

AAJ Staff By

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Submitted on Behalf of Dave Stephens and Susan Randles

What could be more pleasant in early January than enjoying the best in the world of jazz in a tropical paradise of lush landscapes and friendly people. Paint It Jazz 2000, the 7th annual Barbados Jazz Festival, was the most ambitious to date with a vast array of musical greats from North America and Europe. Renown performers included Wynthon Marsalis, Denise Jannah, Al Harewood, Lenny Marcus, Tito Puente and Luther Vandross.
January 12: The official opening for the festival took place in the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium, a large venue with good acoustics located near the Barbados’ capital of Bridgetown. After the official opening, the first set featured DENISE JANNAH direct from The Netherlands. Backed by her tight musical group, Jannah used her alto voice to belt out a calypso-influenced version of Them There Eyes and a number of classical pieces including Thelonius Monk’s Roun’ Midnight. Originally from Suriname, a former Dutch colony, Jannah has been ranked by many as one of the most outstanding jazz singers in recent years.
The second set became a musical journey into history when headliner WYNTON MARSALIS performed many of the time-honored pieces from the past, including original compositions by Jelly Roll Morton. With such classics as Jungle Blues, Courthhouse Bump and Red Hot Peppers, Marsalis covered a wide range from blues to traditional New Orleans jazz with the aid of the ten-member Lincoln Centre group. A highlight of Marsalis’ visit to Barbados was his workshops for local school children where he encouraged them to “really listen to music”.
January 13: The second night of the Festival saw a change of venue to the historic Sunbury Plantation where an enthusiastic audience welcomed DEMO CATES AND THE MONSOONS. Although born in Detroit, Cates has been performed in Canada at a Toronto night club for the past few years. A master of both the alto and soprano sax, the former Motown Records session musician delighted the audience with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Cates diverted from his usual smooth contemporary style with the Latin-influenced Rikki’s Rhumba. The highlight of the set was when Eddie Bullen on keyboard performed his improvisation of Branches with a strong calypso influence.

The second set produced a new sound for many of the jazz lovers in the audience. Most, for the first time, heard REGINA CARTER use an astonishing jazz instrument - the violin. Carter worked her magic on numbers that borrowed strong inspirations from Brazil to West Africa and every place in between and included her own rendition of Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and the Cuban salsa number Centro Habana.

January 14: Day three of the festival continued at Sunbury House and began with the AL HAREWOOD QUINTET. Harewood, an accomplished drummer from Barbados, lead the group in producing a good blend of arrangements with a solid, smooth sound which made for easy listening. Selections included Cherokee, using a North American drum beat, and the Bossa Nova sounds of Summer Night, emphasized by Harewood playing the drums with maracas.

After a break, THE LENNY MARCUS TRIO took to the stage with a refreshing blend of traditional standards and original pieces. The 30-year old Marcus studied with Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans and currently headquarters in Washington, DC. In addition to Marcus’ mastery on the grand piano legendary tenor sax and flautist Sonny Fortune highlighted the evening, especially with the fast moving It Ain’t What It Was.

January 15: Day four saw a venue change to Farley Hill Park for an afternoon Concert on the Hill. The grand stage was erected in front of the ruins of an ancient great house, flanked by lawns and trees. Thousands of music lovers from tiny tots to grandmothers brought blankets, chairs and picnic baskets to sit on the hill and have a party. Smoke gently drifted up from barbecues in the tents selling chicken, flying fish, and spicy beef on rice. Just behind the hill was the whole western countryside with lush green hills, rolling white surf in the distance, and a perfect cooling breeze.

The first two sets featured local groups beginning with a solid performance, that even included the use of the steel pan, by music students in the BARBADOS COMMUNITY COLLEGE JAZZ COMBO. Another strong local group, JAMARI, provided a blend of funk and jazz.

Few remained sitting on their chairs or blankets when the 77-year old Latino of the jazz world, TITO PUENTE, stood surrounded by his drums for a solid hour of Latin rhythms from salsa to sambas. When the set ended the crowd demanded more and Puente, a member of the International Jazz Hall of Fame, gave them what they wanted. After 50 years in the music business (over 400 compositions and 120 recordings) Puente doesn’t seem to show any signs of either creative or physical fatigue - his music will live forever.

Even though a late flight delayed her arrival on stage, REGINA BELLE lit up the evening with her warming style as the sun slowly slipped below the horizon. The crowd loved the Grammy award winner as she captivated them with Love TKO and continued with her older hits including Make It Like It Was and If I Could. She sang to two little girls, who were brought on stage, hugging them with affection as she ended both her set and the Concert on the Hill segment of the festival.

January 16: The closing night of the festival was a single 90 minute set when the festival’s drawing card, a slender LUTHER VANDROSS, filled virtually every seat in the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium. With a Las Vegas style show of lights and sounds, Vandross and his backup singers - three of whom are lead singers in other groups - worked their magic on the crowd as they closed out the successful Paint it Jazz 2000.

BARBADOS as a southern destination is a tropical paradise worth exploring. Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea it is a friendly, lush island with a constant year-round comfortable climate.

Barbados has a uniquely British atmosphere, being a former colony and presently an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. English, with a Bajan accent, is the national language.

The capital, Bridgetown, is an historic community with an array of shops along Broad Street and a variety of sites worth visiting (museum, parliament buildings, cathedral, Trafalgar Square). Farther afield visitors will find lush tropical foliage lining narrow paved roadways that crisscross the island through fields of sugarcane. Surrounded by almost endless beaches, it isn't difficult to find your own little private sanctuary. Other places worthy of a visit include a tour underground in Harrison's Cave, the stately St. Nicholas Abbey, a drive over Cherry Tree Hill - the highest spot in the "Scottish District", and the awesome seascape at Bathsheba. Visitors couldn’t ask for more.

BARBADOS BRIEFS: AIR TRAVEL: The Grantley Adams International Airport is about 5 hours south of New York and is served from various USA gateways by American/American Eagle and Air Jamaica, British Airways from England and Air Canada direct daily from Toronto (weekly from Montreal and Ottawa). DOCUMENTS: US and Canadian citizens require either a valid passport OR an original birth certificate with government-authorized photo ID. MONEY MATTERS: Barbados dollar (BD$) pegged at US$1 = BD$1.98. US and Canadian currency accepted most places (best exchange rate at banks) as are most credit cards. ATM’s in major centers. MORE INFORMATION: Barbados Tourist Authority in USA at 800-221-9831, in Canada at 800-268-9122 or on the web at www.barbados.org .

Dave Stephens and Susan Randles are a married couple and travel writers living in Halifax, Canada. They write a regular column, “Romantic Getaways,” for The Sunday Daily News and have three travel guides published by Nimbus Publications.

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