Monty Alexander Biography

Montgomery Bernard Alexander, 6 June 1944, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies. Alexander has built a reputation as a dynamic and technically brilliant pianist in the Art Tatum / Oscar Peterson seam without ever extending that virtuoso tradition. He began playing the piano from an early age. His expert tuition and enthusiasm led to him supporting many top Jamaican session men in the 50s covering R&B hits, which with the emphasis on the second beat led to the birth of ska. In 1958, he formed his own band, Monty And The Cyclones, who released a series of obscure singles through to 1960. Following the group’s demise, he formed another band called Dogget, alongside, Neville Anderson and Vidal Smith while he completed his education at the Jamaica College in Kingston. In 1961, after finishing school, Alexander left Jamaica with his mother to live in Miami, USA where he embarked on a career as a pianist in local clubs. The following year he was invited to play in Las Vegas where he joined the Art Mooney Orchestra. While playing keyboards with the ensemble he accompanied many top performers including Frank Sinatra in 1963. Alexander’s piano skills impressed Jilly Rizzo (an acquaintance of Sinatra) and he invited him to perform at his jazz club in New York. He played at Jilly’s in Manhattan for a number of years and took up residence in New York.

During his career Alexander has worked and recorded with Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson, and in 1991 helped Natalie Cole record Unforgettable, a tribute album to her late father Nat ‘King’ Cole. Highly popular in live performance, where the sometimes clinical accuracy of his recorded work is pleasantly animated, Alexander occasionally uses his native West Indian musical heritage to impressive effect. Indeed, on two albums in the 80s, Ivory And Steel and Jamboree, he successfully, if improbably, incorporated jazz piano with a steel band. In 1995 he recorded a live album, Yard Movement, with his all-Jamaican reggae group, and in the late 90s was invited to perform on Della Manley’s Jamaican chart-topping album, Ashes On The Windowsill. He continues to perform in a variety of settings: as a soloist, in a trio format, and with orchestras and big bands.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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