Monty Alexander gets his Montreux trio back together at the JAS Cafe
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
Who: Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton
Where: JAS Café at the Aspen Art Museum
When: Friday, July 8 & Saturday, July 9, 7 & 9:15 p.m.
How much: $55 ($100 for dinner)
Pianist Monty Alexander, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton have all headlined on Aspen stages in recent years — but the trio has never played here together.
The brilliant jazz trio is best known for a legendary show at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976 — often referred to as one of the great concerts in the festival’s storied history, immortalized on the album “Montreux Alexander” and now celebrating its 40th anniversary.
They’re getting the band back together this weekend for four performances at the JAS Cafe at the Aspen Art Museum in what Jazz Aspen President Jim Horowitz said will be a high point of the summer jazz season.
“The three of them together, it’s a jazz trio that’s the pinnacle of the art,” Horowitz said. “They have hypnotic arrangements. It’s the best jazz trio I’ve ever heard. What they have together is magical.”
On their own, each of these three have led monumental music careers (Clayton arranged Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Hamilton played with the Count Basie Orchestra) but together they’ve found a singular sound.
Their swinging jazz approach includes standards, new material, ballads and Jamaican-influenced hymns and marches. The Caribbean touch comes from Alexander, the Jamaican jazz legend and Kingston native, who broke onto the scene in the 1960s and played along with greats like Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson early on in his career.
Studying classical piano as a child, Alexander gravitated toward Fats Domino, bop and jazz piano of the day.
“I was a rebel,” he told The Aspen Times in 2011 before playing the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival with his Harlem-Kingston Express. “Because my teacher wanted me to play Bach and Beethoven, but I wanted blues and boogie-woogie, because it made people feel good, made them say, ‘Go kid, go.’ It made me feel good.”
It took him a while to allow his Jamaican patois and rhythms into his jazz style, emboldened by the embrace of reggae in the U.S. in the 1970s.
“I was trying to hide that part of me. I was putting on the (American) accent, trying to get along,” he said. “You say to yourself, ‘These guys aren’t going to understand.’ You say Jamaica, and they say, ‘Long Island?’ So you say, ‘What’s the point?’ I would try to match their speech, so they wouldn’t pick it out so clearly.”