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In a career spanning five decades, pianist Monty Alexander has built a reputation exploring and bridging the worlds of American jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica, finding in each a sincere spirit of musical expression. In the process, he has performed and recorded with artists from every corner of the musical universe and entertainment world: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Quincy Jones, Ernest Ranglin, Barbara Hendricks, Bill Cosby, Bobby McFerrin, Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare, among others.
Born on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, he took his first piano lessons at age six, although he is largely self-taught. As a teenager, he witnessed concerts by Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole at Kingstons Carib Theater. These artists had a profound effect on Alexanders aspirations. He formed Monty and the Cyclones in the late 1950s and also recorded on sessions with the musicians who would catapult Jamaican music to international recognition as The Skatalites (Bob Marleys first backing band).
Alexander and his family came to the United States at the end of 1961. Less than two years later, while playing in Las Vegas with Art Mooneys orchestra, he caught the eye of New York City club owner Jilly Rizzo and his friend, Frank Sinatra. Rizzo hired the young pianist to work in his club, Jillys, where he accompanied Sinatra and others. There he met Modern Jazz Quartet vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who hired him and eventually introduced him to former Charlie Parker collaborator and legendary bassist Ray Brown. Alexander recorded and performed with the two jazz giants on many occasions. Jazzs greatest luminaries welcomed Alexander to their musical fraternity in the mid-1960s. Among these earliest enthusiasts for his playing were none other than Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Miles Davis.
To this day, Alexander maintains an active touring schedule, from intimate jazz clubs to concert halls and jazz festivals around the globe. His collaborations span multiple genres, styles, and generations. His projects have been as varied as assisting Natalie Cole in her tribute album to her father, Nat King Cole in 1991 (the resulting album, Unforgettable, won seven Grammy awards), performing George Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue under the direction of Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and recording the piano track for the film score of Clint Eastwoods Bird, a movie about the life of jazz titan Charlie Parker.
In August 2000, the Jamaican government awarded Monty Alexander the title of Commander in the Order of Distinction for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador. In Hal Leonards 2005 book The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time, Alexander was listed among the top five Jazz pianists of all time.
With the invitation and encouragement of Wynton Marsalis, Alexander conceived and directed the acclaimed program Lords of the West Indies at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2008, broadcast nationally on BETJ. Alexander returns to Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Fall 2009 with a new program Harlem Kingston Express.
As a leader, Monty Alexander has recorded over 60 albums to date. His 1976 Montreux (Switzerland) Jazz Festival performance with drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton has become one of the most celebrated live recordings in contemporary jazz. His most recent albums on the Telarc label include trio sessions, such as Impressions in Blue, and the live concert recording Goin Yard. In the late summer of 2005, Alexander traveled to Bob Marleys Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, and teamed up with top Jamaican session players to record Concrete Jungle, a set of twelve Bob Marley compositions reinterpreted through Alexanders jazz piano-centered arrangements. The resulting union of musical perspectives digs deep into the Marley legend and brings together the two worlds that Alexander most treasures, building the musical bridges that are the very essence of his craft. As a testament to his versatility, The Good Life, on Chesky Records is a collection of songs written and popularized by one of his all time favorite artists and good friends, Tony Bennett. His current release on Chesky is Calypso Blues, a tribute to his hero Nat Cole.