Jazzman expands his musical musings

February 01, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -When he was 4 or 5, Monty Alexander started playing a piano in his Kingston, Jamaica, home that hadn't been getting much attention.

When he was 19, Frank Sinatra heard him play in Miami and hired him to play at Jilly's, a New York City club owned by Jilly Rizzo that Sinatra supported.

That chance encounter led to opportunities to play with and learn about music from some of the best in the business.

On Saturday, Monty Alexander will perform with bassist Hassan Shakur and drummer George Fludas in Wilson College's Laird Hall.

The concert will include classic jazz such as Duke Ellington music and some of Alexander's own compositions, influenced by jazz and his Jamaican roots.


Alexander, now 62, has performed on more than 65 albums. Many are classical jazz, but Alexander has musically explored more of his Jamaican roots in recent years. This includes last year's "Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley."

Alexander said he wants to continue exploring music, tapping into the roots of Jamaican music, heritage and culture but bring his own "tilt" to it. Alexander's music is influenced by all kinds of music, including jazz, reggae and country.

"I'm just kind of celebrating, pretty much all the explorations I've been doing all through the years. ... I go and I play and I put it all together. My thing is to put it all together," Alexander said in a recent phone interview from his home in New York City.

Alexander is proud of his Jamaican heritage and the honorary title of commander of distinction that he received in 2002 from the Jamaican government for being a good ambassador of Jamaica and for his excellence in music.

These days Alexander is accepting invitations to perform at places such as colleges, rather than organizing a tour. He's spent much of his life on tour, including performing in Europe and Japan.

This will be Alexander's second performance at Wilson College, after playing in Thomson Chapel in June 2004 at the invitation of the Cumberland Valley School of Music.

Alexander never attended a music school, but he took piano lessons as a child from a few teachers in Jamaica. He mostly picked up playing piano by watching and listening to others perform, he said.

"I'm just like a sponge," Alexander said. "I used to soak up all the good things that came to me. I went out of my way to be around people I admired and respected (in Jamaica)."

Getting to perform at Jilly's with legends such as Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie helped a lot, he said.

"When you're approved by such a group or a man like (Sinatra), it does nothing but boost your confidence and half of this stuff is your confidence, when you play. You have to know what you're doing."

If you go ...

WHAT: Monty Alexander Trio, part of the Wilson College Performing Arts Series

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3

WHERE: Laird Hall, Wilson College, 1015 Philadelphia Ave., Chambersburg, Pa.

COST: Tickets cost $14; $12 for ages 65 and older; and free for kindergarten to grade 12, though tickets are required. For tickets, call 717-262-2003, e-mail, order online at or stop by the Conferences and Special Events Office in Thomson Hall between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. There will be signs on campus directing people to Laird Hall and parking.

The Herald-Mail Articles