JJ 06/81: Monty Alexander at Ronnie Scott’s, London

Forty years ago, Mike Hennessey saw the Jamaican pianist prevail over the Hellenic corpses, Polish paragons and Blue Circle drinkers of the Soho club. First published in Jazz Journal June 1981

Monty Alexander (left) and Mike Hennessey. Photo Hasentratz / JJ Archive

Monty Alexander’s multi-faceted pianistic talent, his infectious enthusiasm, prodigious swing, extemporaneous humour and energetic resourcefulness ought to be enough to win over an audience even when it is littered with Hellenic corpses, Polish paragons and Blue Circle drinkers. But for the first part of his two-week season at Ronnie Scott’s, Alexander experienced difficulty in getting through.

Problems with the piano, the internal balance and the set-up on the stage were the prime factors which impaired communica­tions. Another challenge was certainly the massively entertaining exuberance of Bertice Reading, an explosive and irresistibly good-humoured performer whose professionalism and vitality make her extremely hard to follow.

Nevertheless, no musician works harder than Alexander to reach an audience and by the midway point of his engagement, he was setting in motion the precious mutual catalysis that informs the best live jazz performances.

With two former Ahmad Jamal sidemen – Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums – plus his long-time, fellow Jamaican associate Ernest Ranglin on guitar – Alexander put together intelligently programmed sets, working sometimes in duo with just bass or guitar, varying the mood and tempo and selecting tunes and treatments particularly suited to his special talents.

Monty Alexander is a pianist who believes in the somewhat unfashionable virtues of good melodies, interesting changes, creative dynamics and hard-swinging tempos. Yet despite the conven­tional approach, he has forged a unique style of his own and he is undoubtedly one of the most consistently interesting and rewarding club players on the scene. He’s certainly a master of the famous jazz art of surprise.