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  • Brittany Jackson

The Jazz ROLL CALL. 4 Alpharians On Repeat

Many of the most respected names in Jamaican jazz started their career at the Alpha Boys School.

Jamaican Jazz Greats

Names like Joe Harriot, Albert "Bertie" King, Wilton Gaynair, Dizzy Reece and Harold "Little G" McNair may not be familiar to Jamaican music fans despite having made a significant contribution to music. While their contemporaries in Jamaica became the pioneers of ska, the men on todays Roll Call made a name for themselves overseas as jazz innovators. In recognition of International Jazz Day on April 30, we are pleased to highlight four Alpha past boys who went on to become giants in jazz...


Alphonso Son "Dizzy" Reece is a hard bop jazz musician with a distinctive sound and compositional flair. Starting out on the saxophone and then switching to trumpet, Reece became a full-time musician at the age of 16 and relocated to London in 1948. For the next decade, Reece toured Europe and collaborated with American jazz players such as Don Byas, Kenny Clarke, Frank Foster, and Thad Jones, among others.

While in London in ‘58, Reece recorded his debut album with the Blue Note label, Blues in Trinity, released in 1959 with a band that included Donald Byrd on trumpet, Art Taylor on drums, Tubby Hayes on tenor saxophone, Terry Shannon on piano, and Lloyd Thompson on bass. His second Blue Note album, Star Bright, recorded in the studio of Rudy Van Gelder, came November of that same year and featured Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. Two more Blue Note albums were recorded in 1960, Soundin' Off and Comin' On, the latter remained unreleased until 1999. In 2004, Mosaic reissued Reece's recordings on the Blue Note label.


A fluent improviser of hard-bop, Wilton “Bogey” Gaynair was a Jamaican-born jazz tenor saxophonist who entered the European jazz scene in 1955. He frequently performed with long-time friend and Alpha brother Dizzy Reece in London before traveling to Germany, where he expanded his musical expertise by studying composition and arrangement. During this time, he performed with the Kurt Edelhagen Radio Orchestra on several occasions, including the opening ceremony of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, and he was a guest musician on Alfred Haurand's Third Eye (LP, 1977). Prior to the early 1990s, Gaynair collaborated with many notable German musicians as well as visiting jazz luminaries from the US and UK.

Gaynair spent much of his career outside of the international spotlight, building a small but dedicated body of critical approval for his work. He recorded only three albums in his lifetime. All three for the British Tempo label. His first was the self-titled Blue Bogey album in 1959 with pianist Terry Shannon, double-bassist Kenny Napper, and drummer Bill Eyden. His second was Africa Calling recorded in 1960 but went unreleased until 2005 due to label and rights issues. His third was another self-titled album, Alpharian in 1982. The first two of his albums were recorded in London during his visits, and the third in Cologne, Germany.

The original pressings of "Blue Bogey" have become a rare collectors prize, and with the re-release of "Africa Calling," Gaynair received recognition that eluded him during his lifetime, including several long-time advocates such as jazz writer Val Wilmer and Jamaica Music Museum director Herbie Miller.


Originally a bebopper, alto saxophonist Joe Harriot’s music was more concerned with ensemble interaction, something he gained while at Alpha Boys School along with Edward “Tan Tan” Thornton. Much of his music retained some sort of Caribbean element - the Jamaican inflections, the calypso influence, and experiences of playing in the Ozzie Da Costa Band.

His debut album, Southern Horizon released in 1959 was quickly followed by Free Form in 1960. Subsequently, he released Abstract two years later. An assertive and relentlessly creative musician, Harriot was not afraid to step outside his comfort zone. He would collaborate with traditional jazz musicians like Chris Barber and go on to record Indo-Jazz Fusions (1967) with violinist John Mayer, and Hum-Dono with guitarist Amancio D'Silva.

In recent years, Harriot’s influence has gradually been recognized in many scholarly and journalistic publications. In addition to receiving Charles Mingus' admiration and influencing European free jazz pioneers such as John Stevens, Evan Parker, and Albert Mangelsdorff, British musicians Courtney Pine, Gary Crosby, and most recently Soweto Kinch acknowledged his influence and performed his music on stage. Likewise, the publication of Alan Robertson biography and Coleridge Goode's recount, have helped to make Harriot's story more widely known.


Jazz flautist, vocalist, and saxophonist Harold "Little G" McNair, was one who had a unique phrasing on the flute and was a formidable player on alto and tenor saxophone. Like the others, McNair went to America (The Bahamas) and subsequently Europe, where he began performing at Ronnie Scott's club often and with jazz performers like Kenny Clarke and Quincy Jones. Before relocating to London, he appeared as a calypso singer in the 1958 movie Island Women.

Many of McNair's early recordings were in Caribbean musical styles rather than jazz as evidenced in his debut album, Bahama Bash 1960, which was a combination of jazz and calypso tunes. It was around this time, McNair was routinely switching between saxophone and flute, which would eventually become his signature instrument and earn him a series of non-jazz sessions with contemporary UK jazz musicians including Donovan Leitch, John Martyn, John Cameron and CCS - Collective Consciousness Society.

Throughout the late 1960s, he also contributed to a slew of jazz-inflected folk and progressive rock albums, including Martyn's The Tumbler and Davy Graham's Large as Life and Twice as Natural. During a visit to Mami, he recorded his first all-jazz album, Up in the Air with Harold McNair, after which he returned to the UK and released Affectionate Fink in 1965 for Island Records.

The self-titled album The Hipster, released on RCA as a 45 in 1968, was perhaps his most well-known work. The record has become one of the most iconic British jazz dance tunes from the 1960s. On the same RCA label came Flute and Nut in 1970 which was swiftly followed by The Fence, a jazz fusion record, in the same year. In succeeding decades, his music was frequently ‘raided’ by samplers.

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