Following their stint at the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival, the Monty Alexander Trio, featuring Jeff Hamilton (drums) and John Clayton (bass), played to a sold out house at Yoshi’s Oakland on Sept. 23.
Alexander, a Grammy-nominated, Jamaica-born pianist/composer, told the story of his illustrious career on the black and white keys of a Steinway & Sons grand piano. The trio celebrated the music of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley.
Alexander, 71, is perhaps the only artist to maintain careers concurrently in the genres of jazz and reggae, collaborating with the likes of Dizzie Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Ranglin and Sly and Robbie to name a few. As a trio, Alexander, Clayton and Hamilton have been playing together since 1975. In 2006, Alexander recorded one of his finest reggae albums, “Concrete Jungle: The Music of Bob Marley,” recorded at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston and featuring some of the hottest players in contemporary reggae and jazz-- Delfeayo Marsalis (trombone), Dean Fraser (saxophone) Glen Browne (bass), Junior Jazz (guitar) Herlin Riley and Rolando Alphanso Wilson (drums) and Luciano (vocals) and more .
At Yoshi’s, the room became silent as Alexander played the first chords of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and segued into a tribute to the reggae icon with one of his most popular ballads, “No Woman, No Cry.”
“Yardie!” a man called out from the audience.
“Yeah mon, yuh hear what me a seh; that gentleman is acknowledging the fact that we come from yard, and the yard is the nexus of the house; it’s better than the kitchen,” said Alexander, in a regal, uptown Jamaican accent. “Jamaica gave us riddim.”
Alexander performed one of his original compositions, the one drop-infused “Think Twice,” which is based on Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale.” Alexander added a distinct Caribbean flavor to Charlie Chaplin’s somber ballad “Smile,” featuring an ethereal bass solo by Clayton. Alexander showed off his R&B chops with a lively version of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 hit, “Isn’t She Lovely.”
At age 18, while Alexander was performing at a bar in Florida, Frank Sinatra happened to walk in and change the course of his life by taking him from saloons to “high class joints.” Impressed by the young man’s style on the piano, Sinatra flew Alexander to New York, and he went on to play with Ole Blue Eyes for two-three years on and off. Alexander honored Sinatra’s centennial birthday with hits such as “Mack the Knife,” “Night and Day” and “Strangers in the Night.” For more on Monty Alexander concert dates, go towww.montyalexander.com, Yoshi’s line up, www.yoshis.com. Hear the music of Monty Alexander on Streetwise Radio’s Jazz Café.