Jamaican-born pianist and bandleader Monty Alexander is an old-school road warrior who still loves to rock the house with hard swing and deep island grooves. Though he has good ears and strong opinions, Alexander avoids theoretical analysis when listening to music, concentrating instead on feelings, emotions and experiences. While setting up, we talked about his growing up with mento music and American popular song in Kingston, his love for Louis Armstrong, Lord Kitchener and New Orleans R&B, and his big break in Miami, where he was discovered by Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo. In recent years, Alexander has led his well-traveled jazz trio, as well as a reggae band. His latest release is Calypso Blues: The Songs of Nat King Cole (Chesky).
1. Nat “King” Cole
“Calypso Blues” (from The Nat King Cole Story, Capitol). Cole, vocal; Jack Costanzo, conga. Recorded in 1949.
[chuckles]. Nat. I’ve heard this so many times, and I knew Jack Costanzo very well. The timing of that recording came close to the time that Harry Belafonte did his calypso album. Nat was not a stranger to seeking popularity. He was somebody who could do anything he wanted. He was a natural. He loved music and he loved rhythms from the island. Who on earth would record a song with just a man beating on a conga, especially someone like Nat who was such a swinging musician? And he played so much piano, so that tells you about Nat’s daring, as well as his talent. I knew all these songs, what we called mento songs, and he was a beloved voice in our home. When I was 10 years old I walked down the street and imitated him because of the girl I had a crush on [sings Too Young]. Louis Armstrong also recorded a calypso around that time called “High Society.” So they were my ultimate heroes, Louis Armstrong and Nat Cole. I saw them in Kingston when I was about 11 years old. Incredible. They were artists as well as entertainers. They had that thing, that show biz thing. So you just played a man who’s everything to me. He went for the brass ring, and he got it because everybody loved him.
Michael Wolff has worn many hats in the music business. As a jazz pianist and composer he worked with Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, and he spent five years as Nancy Wilson’s music director. The mid-1980s found Wolff branching out as a comedian and singer-songwriter, which paved the way towards his high profile 5-year gig as television bandleader on The Arsenio Hall Show. He’s since composed soundtracks for several films, including The Tic Code directed by the actress (and his wife) Polly Draper. More recently, Wolff has sharpened his acting chops playing the geeky accordion-playing dad on Nickelodeon’s popular rock comedy television show The Naked Brother’s Band, starring Wolff’s sons Nat and Alex. We sat one night over a bowl of pistachios listening to records and talking about his latest release, Joe’s Strut (Wrong Records).
1. Nancy Wilson
“Never Will I Marry” (from Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, Capitol). Wilson, vocals; Cannonball Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded in 1961. Continue reading →
This B&A originally appeared in JazzTimes in 2008. This is the first time it has appeared in its entirety.
1. Erroll Garner
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” (from Long Ago and Far Away, Columbia). Garner, piano; John Simmons, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums. Recorded in 1950)
Before: Erroll Garner? He’s got one of the most distinctive, original styles. There’s a cohesiveness between what he’s doing rhythmically with his left hand and what’s going on with the rest of the band. I’ve always loved where he places the beat; it’s got that forward motion to it. He swings his ass off! This makes me want to go through a big Erroll Garner phase. The arrangement is so tight, it sounds so effortless. I don’t know the tune but it’s something in B-flat minor. Continue reading →
I interviewed French pianist and composer Martial Solal earlier this week. We didn’t have much time before his concert, and he was a bit insecure about his English (often turning to his wife for translation), but he said some interesting things.