By Richard Johnson—
It has been years since piano virtuoso Monty Alexander performed in Jamaica. Later this evening he breaks that dry spell with a benefit concert at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in St Andrew in aid of The University of the West Indies’ Global Giving Program.
The affable Alexander sat down with the Jamaica Observer ahead of the performance, dubbed Home For Christmas. He shared thoughts on the performance, Jamaican music and culture, and inspiring and being inspired by the current crop of Jamaican musicians and artists.
He said accepting the invitation to perform in Jamaica was a no-brainer.
“I was really pleased when I got the call. I have gotten invitations over the years since the last time, which was a good while ago, and the timing was not right and the stars were not aligned. Also, I feel very happy as the main organizer of this event is someone who I look up to with respect and I thought this would be good as I had trust and confidence. What I do depends greatly on playing on a piano and you don’t find too many good pianos down here. So once I was assured that I was getting a good piano and I was playing a concert which is a benefit. It isn’t about fattening my pocket, but going towards some people who need some support,” he said. As for the show, Alexander is promising a good time.
“Based on what I normally do and what usually happens… a good time. A good time will be had unless something very strange happens. It will be a time of upliftment and not jazz, not reggae, just music.”
The Grammy-nominated artist, who will be performing with his Harlem Kingston Express, said his music always has that strong Jamaican root.
“I draw on that root. That wah yuh gran’ mother tell yuh, the folk music, the mento, Miss Lou. All of this is a backbone of the goodness that is the artiste of today. Some choose to take it into an area that is the rough way of expression, I lean towards the positive. I hear all the artistes coming out of Jamaica and over the past few years I have ended up on the stage with Beres Hammond, I had Chronixx as my guest on a show in New York, Tarrus Riley… so I know a lot of these guys of today who are making great sounds,” he explained.
When not performing, Alexander jokes that he tries to stay out of trouble, but uses his downtime preparing himself to publish a book and constantly works on new music.
“I am invigorated to do new things. People from many quarters of the world have been convincing me to write a book because of the story, the journey, where I’ve been, all the great people I’ve had interactions with. I am also doing a recording that I’m excited about where I’m bringing the music of a certain jazz icon to the Caribbean experience. That could be more than an album, but a life project, so I am really excited about that,” he said.
As for the future, Alexander is looking to pass on a message of hope and inspiration to young people.
“My responsibility is to keep sound and positive and share that with young people to give them hope. I am an imperfect story of a person in whom hope dwells. Just want to share with them how to dream that perfect dream and turn away from mischief, which by the way is what music can do. Anytime I see music bringing people to trouble, then I know it’s not music.”