Jamaican-born jazz pianist Monty Alexander may not be a household name yet, but his star has been rising among music lovers everywhere. His journey is an interesting one, and the values he brings to his craft are truly inspirational.
Alexander is already an international star in the jazz world. He recently played the Barbican at the London Jazz Festival with fellow musician Courtney Pine. He is very much looking forward to his next London performance, when he will play at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
One of the things that sets Alexander’s music apart is its obvious passion and enthusiasm. His music is full of heart and soul, and that passion definitely flows through to the audience.
When asked how he keeps the momentum going, Alexander answered, “I have a deep, deep well of love for not only the music and sounds but for the world and the people and what music can do to make us smile and feel good.” He feels a great sense of responsibility for the gift that he has been given, and he loves to use it to uplift his audiences.
Music is a privilege
Alexander sees music as more than just his vocation; he views the chance to make music his career as a real privilege, something he feels truly blessed to be able to do. The chance to put together a group of musicians who come from two different worlds and two idioms is truly special to him.
His music combines the spirit of the West Indies and the Caribbean with African roots, jazz and Jamaican influences. Alexander feels a deep affinity for the music he plays. He also counts himself lucky to have played with so many accomplished musicians, including Mill Jackson, Rey Brown and even Frank Sinatra.
When he first came to America, Monty Alexander played in local clubs and learned about the music scene in the United States. He quickly became an accomplished musician, and he even played on a Christmas album released by Tony Bennett. That album may not be jazz, but as Alexander so aptly puts it, “It’s just music. I love it all.”
Alexander is also a fixture in St Lucia, and he has been coming to the island for several years now. He obviously loves playing music in St Lucia, but he loves other aspects of island life as well. When asked, he is quick to say that,
“Everybody is gracious. People are friendly, warm. It’s an ideal island in the sun and of course the environment is just breath-taking.”
As a respected musician he also loves the fact that the people of St Lucia are true music lovers. The Jazz Festival that most recently brought him to the island has been growing significantly, and he hopes to make it part of his regular touring schedule.
Not just a pianist
In addition to the guitar and other standard performance instruments, Alexander is an accomplished piano player. Although the piano does not play much of a role in modern touring music, Alexander still loves the instrument and wishes it was more widely used. He laments the fact that many young people seem not to care much about the piano, preferring smaller and more accessible instruments, like keyboard and guitar.
He loves to say that sitting at the piano and playing it beautifully “goes right to the heart strings”. While guitars and other instruments can be beautiful in their own right, there is something special about the piano for Alexander.
While Alexander understands that he is a big part of the modern music scene, he also realises how important tradition and history are to the jazz scene. He is often described as a jazz purist, and in some ways he embraces that role. He puts it this way, “As you go along, you have to try and hold back the future. You have to hold back with everything.”
The future of music is important but the past is vital
Alexander understands and appreciates the effect of technology on both music and everyday life, but at the same time he fears that something has been lost. Everyone may have a smart phone, but staring at the screen all day means to a large extent they have stopped talking to one another. The reliance on technology means that something vital is lost, and Alexander hopes to recover that loss through his music.
One of the things that sets Alexander apart from his peers is the rare ability to bring his home-grown sensibilities to the stage while keeping jazz as the focal point.
Alexander does this by combining tradition with modernity. He does this so well out of respect for the heritage he brings to the scene. As he says, “It simply comes down to respect for your heritage, respect for your elders, respect for your aunty and your uncle and what they told you.” It is clear, both from Alexander’s thoughts and his musical style, that staying true to his roots and remembering his past are important to him.
As he continues his musical journey, Alexander always remembers where he came from and those who went before him. He feels fortunate to be able to pursue his passion and play his music as a full time career, and he loves seeing the reaction of his fans as he plays at festivals and clubs throughout the world. It has been a special journey for Alexander, and he looks forward to continuing on his current path and seeing where it will ultimately take him.