The River Rolls On

Apr 25, 2014

“I’m a Jamaican. I’m an American. I’m a proud Jamaican. Identity crisis? No… identities embraced!”

The preceding quote by pianist Monty Alexander has been his philosophy since the 1960s when he arrived to the USA as a young man from his native Kingston, Jamaica. Although Monty’s heritage has always been part of his performances and discography, it was when he founded the Harlem-Kingston Express in 2008 that he achieved the perfect mix, the swing and bop of mainstream jazz blended with the folklore and ‘riddims’ of his home island, the “Land of Wood and Water”, Jamaica. As an adolescent in Kingston, his father took him to see Louis Armstrong and then Nat ‘King’ Cole, cementing Monty’s desire to become a jazz pianist.  Currently ranked as one of the top 5 living pianists, he is virtually completely self-taught. A few years after relocating to the US in 1961 with his parents, Monty became the house pianist at the famed Jilly’s, a bar and nightclub in New York City frequented by Frank Sinatra, for whom Alexander was his accompanist. Miles Davis, Count Basie and Duke Ellington were endorsers of Monty’s playing, leading him to concert and recording engagements. However, it was the legendary “Bags”-Milt Jackson who catapulted him into the international jazz world by recommending him to play with bassist Ray Brown, which took him around the world to all of the biggest festivals and to several hit recordings for the Concord Records label. Mr. Alexander’s joy of playing is evident in his live shows, his bi-cultural background and love for many types of music is heard in his colorful quotes while soloing.

In August 2000, the Jamaican government awarded Monty Alexander the title of “Commander in the Order of Distinction" for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador. In 2012 The Harlem-Kingston Express, volume 1, Live! won a ®GRAMMY nomination for best jazz recording. In the summer of 2012 Monty Alexander was awarded the prestigious German Jazz Trophy, “A Life for Jazz” and in November 2012 he received the Caribbean American Heritage Luminary Award from the Institute of Caribbean Studies in Washington, D.C. 

On Harlem-Kingston Express Vol. 2: The River Rolls On, Monty is captured live in Jamaica, live in France, live at Dizzy’s Club-NY, with additional tracks recorded in the studio. For the track “Love Notes”, Monty is joined by George Benson, Ramsey Lewis and Joe Sample. Another track features vocalist Caterina Zapponi who also happens to be Monty’s manager and Mrs. Alexander.  The Harlem-Kingston Express is made up of a jazz trio on bass, drums and guitar, alternating with the Kingston players on bass, drums, percussion and guitar. This summer Monty will be performing at Telluride, Denver’s Dazzle, Vail and Jazz Aspen, a wonderful opportunity to catch the jazz vibrations of the magnificent Monty live. In the meantime I guarantee you that by listening to Harlem-Kingston Express’ Volume 2, The River Rolls On, “evryting will be irie”