Monty Alexander Hits A High Note On ‘Love’

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The music on Monty Alexander’s new live album, Love You Madly, was recorded in 1982.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

In the early 1980s, pianist Monty Alexander was a huge draw for jazz clubs and festivals. His hard-swinging style, spiced with musical elements from his native Jamaica, kept him in demand all over the world. So high was the demand, in fact, that he had neither much need nor much desire to make albums.

“I never went out of my way to record myself,” Alexander said. “I didn’t live in a world where you’re trying to document. You’re just going from joint to joint, from gig to gig.” While Alexander appeared on at least a dozen recordings between 1980 and 1982, most are credited to collaborators like bassist Ray Brown or vibraphonist Milt Jackson.

However, a newly released recording from Aug. 6, 1982, sheds light on what previously was an under-documented phase of Alexander’s career as a leader. Love You Madly: Live At Bubba’s (Resonance), chronicles a gig at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Alexander led a fierce quartet—bassist Paul Berner, drummer Duffy Jackson and conguero Robert Thomas Jr.—that was brimming with creativity and enthusiasm, not to mention chops.

“That was fun,” recalled Thomas, who still works frequently with Alexander. “That night was just high energy, every single song. It was just an incredible night of music.”

Under his own auspices, Alexander led his own combos. “I would have fabulous musicians who—and I say this proudly—all seemed to love the idea of playing with Monty Alexander,” he said. “They knew that we were going to play music that meant something, but more than that, that the usual resolution of the music was going to be happy.” The size and personnel of the bands varied, but they tended to include Jackson and Thomas as their rhythmic powerhouse.

“Monty understood that I was not a traditional conga player. I was a bebop conga player,” Thomas said. “Most bandleaders expect all conga players to do the same thing, to just play Latin licks for their entire lives, and that’s incredibly boring for me. Monty always let me be myself.”

Bubba’s Jazz Restaurant was a supper club that brought A-list musicians to Florida. The month before Alexander’s two-week residency there, however, it had reduced its jazz programming 50 percent; management hoped that bringing in pop acts would revive its sagging bottom line. It didn’t: Bubba’s closed in 1983.

Yet, Alexander and the band packed the seats, playing high-octane, straightahead jazz (“Love You Madly,” “SKJ”), purebred blues (“Blues For Edith”) and infusions with calypso (“Fungii Mama”). According to Alexander, even the reggae-tinged rendition of Christopher Cross’s 1981 smash hit, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” was no concession to the pop mainstream: “I was playing what I liked. It was an era when jazz still had that ‘street corner’ vitality to it. Not to say that ‘Arthur’s Theme’ was street-corner music, but it was a movie theme—part of the fabric of what was going on. ”

The set was recorded by Mack Emerman (1923–2013), founder of Miami’s legendary Criteria Recording Studios. He brought his remote recording equipment, set it up in Bubba’s, and gave Alexander the tape at the end of the night. The pianist put it on a shelf, never listening to it. A few years ago, when Resonance’s George Klabin asked Alexander whether he had anything they might work on together, the pianist exhumed the tape. Even then, he didn’t listen.

“[Klabin] told me it was one of the best he’d heard in terms of sound,” Alexander recalled. “And when I checked it out, it reminded me of my favorite live albums—where you could hear the music, but also the energy of the crowd.”

Love You Madly does more than provide a glimpse into one of Alexander’s neglected professional high points, though. It proves that it was a creative high point, too. DB



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March 2021
Ethan Iverson
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