Monty Alexander on Being a Jamaican Who Plays Jazz: "I Was There Before Reggae"
"Jamaica had such a strong root in its rhythm and spirit, it lent its own approach to jazz and blues. When Bob Marley was singing, he was very influenced by Curtis Mayfield and people like that. I play music that reflects Jamaica. But I also have a great regard for classic American jazz -- Duke Ellington, the great masters of American jazz."
When pressed to explain where Jamaican music and American jazz intersect, Monty is quick to cite the music's "integrity." And a big part of that abstract notion is technicality and skill.
"The way you play an instrument: with excellent artistry and fantastic virtuosity. I've worked with Art Tatum and when he played the piano, he was like Michael Jordan times ten. Because he could play, and arrange notes and harmonies with such expertise. That struck me even when I was a teenager, 'This is a challenge.' And that never got old."
Despite championing specific traditions like jazz and reggae, Monty insists that his approach is pan-musical, describing himself as "a sponge" that soaks up as much transnational influence as possible. All he asks for is a good beat.
"I have a commitment to rhythm," he declares like it's a party platform. "Rhythm is how the sun comes up in the morning. How your heart beats."
Miami Jazz Fest 2012. Saturday, November 17, and Sunday, November 18. Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The show starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Single-day tickets cost $45 to $90 plus fees and two-day passes cost $65 to $295 and up plus fees via livenation.com. Call 305-405-JAZZ or visit miamijazzfest.com.
Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.