By Howard Campbell for South Florida Caribbean News
KINGSTON, Jamaica – One of the greats of modern jazz, Monty Alexander has recorded over 70 albums in a career that started in his native Jamaica over 60 years ago. For Love Notes, his latest collection, the celebrated pianist shows off his vocal prowess.
The 11-song album was released on August 29. Alexander sings on classics like “Island in The Sun,” originally done by Harry Belafonte. In addition, “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca, the timeless 1942 movie starring Humphrey Bogart.
“After having made 75 albums, I wanted to do something that was vocal of this nature. I wanted to do that with a special rhythm section that reflects Jamaica,” he said.
Love Notes was released three weeks after Jamaica celebrated its 60th anniversary of independence. Alexander spoke to South Florida Caribbean News two weeks before he received the Order of Jamaica, his country’s fifth-highest honor.
Calling the national recognition “an extremely wonderful surprise”, he expects to be in Kingston on October 17 to accept the accolade during the annual National Honours and Awards ceremony.
Alexander said he is thrilled to cover “Island in The Sun,” the 1957 song made famous by Belafonte whose parents were Jamaican. The singer/actor lived in Jamaica from 1932 to 1940 before returning to the United States where he was born.
According to Alexander, “Island in The Sun” is “a great, classic song sung by the great Harry Belafonte. The way he sang the song moved me greatly.”
The Kingston-born Alexander was just 18 when he caught the attention of Frank Sinatra at a Miami spot called Le Bistro. His playing so impressed Old Blue Eyes that Sinatra recommended him to Jilly Rizzo, his close friend, who owned Jilly’s Club in Manhattan.
Playing at Jilly’s paved the way for Alexander to work with some of the biggest names in jazz including Count Basie and Miles Davis. While most of his albums are traditional jazz, he has collaborated with giants of Jamaican music such as guitarist Ernie Ranglin and Sly and Robbie.