A Feel Good Groove (The Globe and Mail)

A Feel Good Groove

The Globe and Mail, February 24, 2006


When Monty Alexander sits down at the piano, you can’t help but smile. Go ahead, try not to. The jazzman plays with such delight and sense of humour that if your foot’s not tapping, chances are you might be dead.

“I enjoy [music] so much, I believe in it so much, that my natural being is to be as knocked out about it as the people seem to be,” the 61-year-old Jamaican American says on the phone from his home in New York. “I’m reacting to this experience just like the people in the audience. I’m one of the audience, if that makes any sense.”

Alexander, who has collaborated with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Dizzy Gillespie, performs all over the world. Last summer in Europe, he played concerts in front of 6,000 people, so his two appearances at Vancouver’s 85-seat Cellar jazz club this week will be a welcome respite for him.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to play in an auditorium when the lights are completely down and you don’t see anybody out there,” he says. “You still do your gig, but you miss knowing that the people are there, you know?”

Newcomers to jazz will appreciate the pianist’s repertoire. Along with standard tunes, Alexander is known for turning anything, be it a nursery rhyme, Bob Marley song or sappy seventies hit, into a gutsy and bluesy sound full of his dazzling keyboard technique.

“For me, it’s about being open to different things. To try not to be a snob,” he says. “More important than the songs we play is how we play them.”

The Monty Alexander Trio features Hassan Shakur on bass and Herlin Riley on drums, two musicians who share Alexander’s obvious love of jazz. “We’re all very serious about what we do,” Alexander says, “but we don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’re not smiling or laughing or having a good time with it.”