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Grammy-winning composer performs in jazz concert

Brown Jazz Band opens for Monty Alexander, Brown Arts Initiative funds three-day stay

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Monty Alexander, a Grammy award winning composer, showed off his creative and eclectic jazz style at the 30th Annual Eric Adam Brudner ’84 Memorial Concert in Salomon Hall March 18. His band, the Harlem Kingston Express, played a setlist incorporating a range of pieces that featured genres from traditional jazz to modern reggae. The Brown Jazz Band opened the performance before ceding the stage. Alexander joined the band onstage for one number, soloing alongside Alex Han ’17. 

“The Jazz Band is a 20-piece big band that plays a wide range of styles from the swing of the 1930s to newer stuff that has just been written in the last couple years,” said trumpeter Yale Friend ’19. “(The band) has given me great opportunities. It’s amazing to be part of a group that plays incredible music,” Friend added.

Robert Lee ’17, vocalist for the band, said that the group, which represents the “pinnacle” of his music career, “provides a level of musicianship that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.”

Bassist Amanda Beaudoin ’17 said she appreciates the diverse approaches each member brings to jazz. “Most of the people in the band aren’t music majors. Everyone comes from so many different parts of Brown and they all just love music and love jazz.”

The event — the most recent installment of the Memorial Concert Series — was part of Monty Alexander’s three-day residency at Brown. Primarily funded by the Brown Arts Initiative and the Brudner ’84 Memorial Concert Fund, in association with various departments at Brown, the series afforded students the opportunity to work directly with Alexander during classes in the Music Department.

Onstage, Brown Jazz Band director Matthew McGarrell, who has attended all 30 Brudner ’84 memorial concerts, thanked the Brudner family for their ongoing support.

Opening the concert, the Brown Jazz Band played “a range of styles. Starting with a swing chart written by Toshiko Akiyoshi, moving all the way to a Duke Ellington Classic ‘Cotton Tails,’” Friend said. Alexander joined the band for one number, enthralling the audience and soloing on the piano alongside Alex Chan ’17, who was visibly captivated. “Alexander just brings so much joy to his playing — it’s infectious,” Friend said.

Monty Alexander’s 2011 Album Harlem Kingston Express: LIVE was nominated for Best Reggae Album at the 2012 Grammy Awards . Following the concert, he reminded the crowd that he has recorded 75 albums, the last of which came out this year. His performance, featuring the Harlem Kingston Express, blended jazz, reggae and swing. The musicians hailed from Haiti, Jamaica and Long Island. All the group members played multiple solos that prompted considerable applause from the audience.

Watching from the second floor balcony, members of the Brown Jazz Band couldn’t contain their excitement at seeing the music legends play. “They are just unbelievable — the level of musicianship is spectacular and top notch,” Friend said.

Beaudoin was “so excited to see (Alexander) play, particularly with the whole band.”

The Brown Jazz Band was especially excited to see his genre-blending approach to music, Friend added. “I think he and his group are a great example of how jazz can be integrated into other styles and still be relevant.”

Alexander rehearsed with the band in the days before the concert, offering them advice and providing insight into the music industry. “Thursday night, he took a solo on a tune we were playing, and everyone was just completely mesmerized by it. Everyone was playing at a higher level than before just because he carries our level up,” Friend said.

Echoing his bandmate, Lee said Alexander told the group, “If the audience doesn’t want to jump up and dance, you aren’t doing it right.”

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