Monty Alexander: From the Roundtowner to the Lyric
Jeff Spevak - June 27, 2017
Photo: JAMIE GERMANO, @jgermano1/Staff Photographer
Monty Alexander got a standing ovation before he’d even played a note.
So, off to a good start, Alexander piled on Tuesday afternoon before a few hundred people in the Lyric Theatre on Day Five of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. This was not unexpected, the Jamaican native has a long history with this city. One of his 70-plus albums, 1971’s We’ve Only Just Begun, was even recorded live in a Henrietta club called The Monticello in the old Rowntowner Motor Inn.
“It’s good to be back,” the 73-year-old Alexander said. “I shall now try to play piano.”
That was the only understatement of the performance. This one was solo. Wednesday at Kilbourn Hall, Alexander plays as a trio.
A beautiful ballad, “Consider,” Alexander said, called for the listener to “consider all of the things around you and come to a good decision.” He seemingly plays only the brightest of notes, except for crashing crescendos at the end of “Hurricane,” a piece about a storm that hit Jamaica in 1953, and for a big finish on fellow Jamaican Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”
Alexander’s lived in the United States for many years now, but his soul still retains some Jamaica, despite the minor concern he expressed about the mosquitoes.
Any darkness in the music is more contemplative than it is possessive of his soul. Alexander talked of being a young pianist in New York City, where music school wasn’t where the lessons were to be learned, the scene was late-night bars and rough characters drinking, So he gave us Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Call Me Irresponsible,” which followed Alexander telling a story about when Count Basie and Miles Davis were in the house because “it was the place to be, Frank was there.”
And he spoke of “the deeper realities,” sharing with the audience how his song “Just Wait” reflected his recovery from cancer. Followed by a stroke, which stole from him the use of his left hand for a while. When he suggested at the start of the show that was going to try to play piano, Alexander is speaking from the perspective of someone who’s seen what he loves nearly slip away.
“Just wait,” Alexander said. “A simple little riff you play while you’re waiting for the chemo thing to go. And just wait. It’s going to be all right.”