Monty Alexander on Being a Jamaican Who Plays Jazz: "I Was There Before Reggae"
"I was playing in the studios of Kingston Jamaica, with the masters of Jamaican music, The Skatalites, before they were The Skatalites. I played for Studio One. I was 14, 15."
When asked about the source of his early, prodigious talent, Alexander can only describe the musicality embedded within his DNA as "a gift."
"I never understood why, but I loved muic from the get-go," he recalls. "Since I was three, four years old."
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The Alexander household had a piano and little Monty was quickly enchanted. "I'd sit down and play little tunes," he fondly recounts.
However, his parents' attempted to reign in their son's atypical, personalized techniques with classical training.
"They did send me to a piano teacher. I took these lessons trying to get disciplined [enough] to play classical music and I couldn't get there. I was in rebellion. I stuck with playing with what I liked to play on the piano. I never learned to read music."
"I just picked it up. Why? Because you develop a passion. My passion was music and what could happen when you played. How it made you feel. You could feel good, you could feel sad. And then you can make other people feel good. It never gets old. When you see the joy it brings to people, you just don't want to do nothin' else.
While describing his family as "not really" musical, the pianist explains that he learned about jazz and popular music from radio and movies, quickly becoming obsessed.
"I had seen Louis Armstrong in the movies. I was so smitten that when he came to Jamaica, it was the greatest thrill of my life. I got to shake his hand. I feel like I'm doing the same thing he did. I like to make people feel good."