Ernest Ranglin takes Manhattan

Herbie Miller, the famous reggae impresario, hosted a great event last night at City College, a lecture and concert entitled “In Search of the Lost Riddim: Jamaican Jazz Fusion” starring the immortal guitarist, Ernest Ranglin and a coterie of history-making musicians from Jamaica. As you can see (or at least hear) in the video above, the music was amazing and had that special quality of being a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The lecture went a long way to prove Miller’s thesis, where he states that “from its earliest manifestations in groups like James Reese Europe‘s “Hell Fighters” through Duke Ellington‘s famous orchestras, and including contemporary musicians like Randy Weston and Sonny Rollins, the Caribbean has been an incubator of “American” jazz.”

With numerous examples of Jamaican musicians leaving the island to perform as part of many famous bands through the history of both British and American jazz, culminating in the ska movement of the early sixties, I was convinced.

In this clip, Miller played a bit of Ernest Ranglin playing bebop guitar, followed by a the earliest extant recording of Don Drummond, trombonist, who with Tommy McCook and Roland Alfonso, founded The Skatalites.

It made me look at Ska in a totally different way. While I had previously thought of it as a faster, happier (and lighter) version of reggae, it is actually a deeply sophisticated form of music that incorporated the virtuoso nature of bebop jazz and Caribbean rhythms and instruments to create something totally original (and popular too!). The fact that many of its protagonists were graduates of the Alpha Boys School further supports that these were serious men with a lot of discipline and vision.

The other musicians on stage with Ranglin include Wayne Batchelor (bass); Cedric “Im” Brooks (sax); Douglas Ewart (sax and flute); Orville Hammond (piano) and Larry McDonald (percussionist). They are veterans of such diverse groups as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Taj Mahal, Hermeto Pascoal, Anthony Braxton, Sun Ra, Kirk Whalum and so many more it’s mind boggling.

Thanks to Herbie Miller, Harlem Stage and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University. It was a great lesson!

Ernest Ranglin download: “Ball of Fire” (320 kbps 14MB m4A file)

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