ALPHA ROLL CALL: SAXOPHONE ALUMNI WHO INFLUENCED JAZZ, SKA AND REGGAE
Alpha Boys School alumni have used their saxophone to establish new sounds, new genres and new ways of communicating. Get to know a few of them here...
Brooks (1943 – 3 May 2013) was a member of groups such as The Vagabonds and the Granville Williams Band in the early 1960s and in 1970 he first teamed up with drummer Count Ossie and the pair would later form The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, with Brooks acting as musical director and leader of the horn section. From this collaboration resulted the triple-LP set Grounation but Brooks left in 1974 to form a new band, The Light of Saba, which recorded their first album for the Institute of Jamaica, From Mento to Reggae to Third World Music, a collection exploring the history of Jamaican music.
McNair (5 November 1931 – 7 March 1971) attended the Alpha Boys School under the tutelage of Vincent Tulloch, while playing with Joe Harriott (a lifelong friend who considered McNair his de facto younger brother). He spent the first decade of his musical career in The Bahamas, where he used the name "Little G" for recordings and live performances. His early Bahamian recordings were mostly in Caribbean musical styles rather than jazz, in which he sang and played both alto and tenor saxophone.
During the 1930s Bertie King (1912–1981) led his own band, Bertie King and his Rhythm Aces, described at the time as "Jamaica's Foremost Dance Orchestra". In 1936 he left for England, sailing on the same ship as his friend Jiver Hutchinson. In London he joined Ken Snakehips Johnson's West Indian Dance Band, and later played with Leslie Hutchinson's band. He also worked with visiting American musicians including Benny Carter, George Shearing and Coleman Hawkins.
Felix Headley Bennett OD (29 May 1931 – 21 August 2016) left Alpha aged fifteen to work as a session musician playing in the Studio One house band as well as in Lynn Taitt's band The Jets, The Mighty Vikings, and in The Revolutionaries. In 1962, as a member of The Sheiks, he performed at Palisadoes Airport to greet Princess Margaret on her visit to the island to mark Jamaica's independence. In the ska era of the late 1950s and 1960s, he played on many recordings for a variety of studios including Bob Marley's first recording, "Judge Not", for Leslie Kong
Harriott (15 July 1928 – 2 January 1973) arrived in London in the summer of 1951, aged 23, as a member of Ossie Da Costa's band. British subjects did not require work permits or immigration visas at that time. When the band had completed their tour, Harriott decided to stay in London. Harriott's free-form music is often compared to Ornette Coleman's roughly contemporary breakthrough in the United States, but even cursory listening reveals deep divisions between their conceptions of "free jazz". Indeed, there were several distinctive models of early free jazz, from Cecil Taylor to Sun Ra. Harriott's was another of these. His method demanded more complete group improvisation than displayed in Coleman's music, and often featured no particular soloist.
Gaynair (11 January 1927 – 13 February 1995) was raised at Alpha Boys School where fellow Jamaican musicians Joe Harriott, Harold McNair and Don Drummond were also pupils of a similar age. Gaynair began his professional career playing in the clubs of Kingston, backing such visitors as George Shearing and Carmen McRae, before travelling to Europe in 1955, deciding to base himself in Germany because of the plentiful live work on offer. He recorded very seldom, only three times as a bandleader. Two of those recordings came during visits to England, 1959's Blue Bogey (1959) on Tempo Records and Africa Calling (1960).
Originally a trumpeter, Sterling (born 31 January 1936) is predominantly known as a player of alto saxophone. He was a member of the Jamaica Military Band in the 1950s and played trumpet in Val Bennett's band in 1957. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sterling played regularly as a studio musician, along with most of the future Skatalites members, in bands such as Clue J & His Blues Blasters. Sterling is a founding member of The Skatalites (playing alto saxophone), one of only two (the other is Doreen Shaffer) still alive.
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Alpha's130-year tradition of music education has produced jazz innovators, ska pioneers and reggae icons. We are excited to offer a meaningful and innovative music training curriculum to youth today. We need your help to make it possible. Thank you for your support!