Frankie Bonitto

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Could there be a cooler name than Frankie Bonitto? As I comb through archives of the Daily Gleaner from the 50s and 60s, this name keeps popping up like a bad episode of the Sopranos, so of course I had to find out, just who was this guy? Turns out, Frankie Bonitto was a classical pianist who performed in the big band era, had his own orchestra, and he performed with everyone like Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, and visiting American artists of high acclaim. He performed mostly live at all of the popular clubs in Kingston, and I was unable to find any recordings, so if anyone knows of any, please do post below.

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Daily Gleaner writer Bob Babcock in his “Around and About” column on March 26, 1967 wrote, “Our good old friend Frankie Bonitto is still holding his own at Kingston’s favourite Flamingo Hotel. I can recall when Frankie and I took a show to Guantanamo Bay alone, with Lord Power, Irene the Sex Queen and a dance troupe. From the reaction of the residents of Guantanamo, Frankie was the Number One.”

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

In 1998, Frankie Bonitto performed at a tribute held in his honor at the Kingston Hilton called “Ecstasy with Frankie Bonitto: A time to remember.” The tribute concert featured musical performances from jazz singer, Myrna Hague and legendary band leader (and her husband) Sonny’ Bradshaw, along with Boris Gardiner, Ernie Smith, and Ernest Ranglin. The Daily Gleaner article on the tribute stated, “Frankie Bonitto himself will also perform. This gentleman’s music has earned the respect of his peers and also a wider, younger generation of artistes for his unstinted dedication to excellence in a career that spans over 40 years. According to information reaching The Gleaner, Mr. Bonitto has played in most music hall and nightclubs in the island, including, the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper and Bournemouth clubs, among others. Like his peers in the early ’50s and ’60s he came under the influence of Vere Johns Opportunity Hour live shows at the Carib, Tropical, Palace, Gaiety and Ambassador cinemas. Over the years, Mr. Bonitto developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for top local and foreign stars, including ‘Nat’ Cole, Gladys Knight and Harry Belafonte.”

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

The Gleaner, on Saturday, November 4, 2000, ran an article with the headline, “Frankie Bonitto, musical giant, is dead.” It stated, “ONE OF Jamaica’s musical giants, pianist, Frankie Bonitto, died yesterday at the Kingston Public Hospital. The late musician succumbed to injuries sustained in a car accident on Mountain-View Avenue at about 7 p.m. on Thursday. He was resident pianist at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. The accident occurred on the way to work. He had been playing at that hotel for over two years. Frankie Bonitto was a product of the 1950s when Jamaica’s best musical talents mushroomed. He began playing the piano at a very early age and later received professional tutoring. In the 1950s and 60s he played in the Big Band along with Roy Coburn, Eric Deans , and Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Billy Cook, Carl Masters, Raymond Harper and Donald Jarret. In the 1960′s he was a regular feature, of the music halls around Kingston, including the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper, The Colony and Bournemouth clubs. In December of 1998, a musical tribute was held at the Hilton Kingston hotel in his honour. Quite a gregarious character, over the years he developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for international stars such as Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Matthis and Harry Belafonte. He was one of the most revered pianists in Jamaica. Bonitto who lived in East Kingston and was a pivotal figure in that community, was married to Yvonne. His maxim in life was, ‘if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.’ He leaves behind four children.”

Hopeton Lewis Dies, Leaves Legacy

It is with sadness that we report the death of Hopeton Lewis, legendary Jamaican vocalist. He died on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 in his home in Brooklyn. Hopeton was a musical pioneer who ushered in the era of rocksteady with his iconic song, “Take It Easy.” So we devote today’s Foundation Ska blog post to the early days of Mr. Lewis’s career and share a few words about how he shaped Jamaican music.

“Take It Easy” is credited with being the first to employ the rocksteady rhythm, a slower version of the ska beat. The song featured Lynn Taitt on guitar and his band, the Jets on backup. Taitt went on to develop the rocksteady beat in his own repertoire thereafter. The lyrics of this song are a nod to the slower feel of the music. As rocksteady developed, horns began to disappear, although they still feature prominently in Hopeton’s classic hit. “Take It Easy” sold over 10,000 copies and was an instant hit on the charts and stayed there for many weeks.

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

In a December 15, 2002 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, the birth of rocksteady is charted with the recording of “Take It Easy.” The article states, “Someone suggested that the band slow it down. ‘And that’s when I could sing within the context of the rhythm. And then I hear Gladdy Anderson who was on piano say, “this one rocksteady, you know. This one a rocksteady.” And that’s when it came into being basically,’ Hopeton Lewis said.”

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Hopeton Lewis was known as the originator of the rocksteady beat, as evidenced by this advertisement in the April 28, 1967 Daily Gleaner. He made his initial appearance in the live music arena, or one of them at least, in December 1966 when he performed as Mr. Hopeton “Sounds and Pressure” Lewis.

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Hopeton Lewis began his career with a group called The Regals and throughout his career he recorded for Studio One, Duke Reid, and Byron Lee’s Dynamic label. He also sang as a vocalist for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires for four years in the 1970s. His hit “Cool Collie,” another slow rocksteady-style tune, was another ground breaker as it used herb as the subject of the song which was especially dangerous in these times. In 1970 he won the Festival Song Competition, Eddie Seaga’s creation, with the song “Boom Shaka Laka.” It was issued on Duke Reid’s eponymous label and referenced “the Lord” as he thanked him for many things including the “birds’ sweet songs,” and it was perhaps a glimpse into Hopeton’s future career as a gospel singer. He founded his own gospel label, Bay City Music, and led his own ministry, Songs 4Life Ministry. Hopeton Lewis will be greatly missed and we thank him for his crucial contribution to Jamaican music.

The Real Rhyging

Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classic movie "The Harder They Come," 1972.

Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin in the classic movie “The Harder They Come,” 1972.

The movie “The Harder They Come,” written and directed by Perry Henzell in 1972, made popular the story of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a fictional character played by Jimmy Cliff which further solidified his iconic status in Jamaican music. Ivan may have been fictional, but was largely based on the real-life Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin who lived from 1924 to 1948. Rhyging, sometimes spelled Rhygin, was born in 1924 in Linstead and through his gunslinger, desperado, rude-boy-on-the-run image, he became a folk hero—the subject of not only Henzell’s movie, but referenced in Miss Lou’s poem “Dead Man,” Bim and Bam’s comedy show “Rhygin’s Ghost,” Bob Marley’s song “Keep On Moving,” and plenty of other lyrical forms that celebrate the working man, the wronged regular guy, the rude boy.

The real Rhyging

The real Rhyging

Here is a four-part series that ran in late 2000 in the Jamaica Gleaner, written by freelancer C. Roy Reynold that reveals the real Rhyging.

C. Roy Reynolds writes in the November 3, 2000 Jamaica Gleaner:
Seldom in the history of Kingston has there been such a time of acute fear and tenor as in early September 1948 when the infamous Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin was shooting his way into legend. He was indeed the city’s first gunman desperado. But before rehashing his exploits as chronicled by The Gleaner, a little explanation is in order.

The word “Rhvging” does not appear to have been a noun as much as an adjective. In fact it was a distant forerunner to the latter-day “irie,” and was used to describe someone or something stylishly out of the ordinary or daring. So the name really meant Ivanhoe Martin who was rhyging.

Like many other killers who were to follow his footsteps, Martin was an escapee from the General Penitentiary. He had escaped by jumping from one of the windows of the prison in early April. He had been serving a five-year term for burglary and larceny; and in spite of an island-wide manhunt he managed to elude the police until that fateful night of August 31 when acting on a tip, the police thought they had at last cornered their man in the Carib Hotel on Regent Street, Hannah Town. According to The Gleaner of September 2, shortly after 10:00 o’clock that Tuesday night a group from the Criminal Investigation Department went to the hotel to make the arrest.

The two detectives, Earle and Lewis, must have been surprised when they were greeted by gunfire which they returned arid the fugitive was seen to fall to the floor. Before they could take cover there was another burst of gunfire.

The fugitive then emerged from the hotel, his two guns blazing away in a scene The Gleaner described as reminiscent of “Chicago gangster days.” Though he managed to escape into a block of tenements bounded by Regent Street, Trinity Lane, Blount Street, and Dumfries Street, police were confident that he would not much longer elude them.

After he had escaped from the hotel wearing only, an underpants and ‘barefooted,’ how far could he get! A bullet also struck an ex-Sergeant Gallimore who had been roused from his bed to give assistance. The three, policemen hit were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital but for Sgt Lewis it was too late.

The police cordoned off the area and continued their search into the morning but the fugitive had eluded them and his reign of terror was just beginning. While the police were pursuing ;their empty hunt the gunman had already taken another victim.

According to reports he had reason to believe that an erst-while friend, Eric Goldson. Had informed on him and he now sought revenge. At about 1:30 a.m. he managed to enter a home at 257 Spanish Town Road where Goldson lived. Goldson’s friend Lucilda Tibby Young answered a knock on the door and was confronted by the gunman. She informed him that his quarry was not there, where upon he is alleged to have declared that, if he couldn’t get Goldson he would get her. He fired a bullet in her chest killing her on the spot.

Now the whole city was in a state of fear and the police intensified their search, especially after they received a letter purportedly written by the desperado in which among other things was a declaration that he “had ten bullets left and would make at least nine of them count.” The letter also declared that “I have made crime history,” and went on to name a number of detectives he intended to kill.

As if to lend credence to the police assertion that he had been hit the letter ended: “I am hurt in the shoulder, and I can’t write anymore. Detective Sgt. Scott of the Half Way Tree police created much apprehension among the police to the extent that one office in the station barracks and alleged that he had been awakened by martin who turned the light on and spoke to him, then turned off the light and disappeared. Speculation was that this was all a dream or a hallucination.
But by then many including the police had come to believe that Martin could do almost anything. He had escaped from the Carib Hotel when police had occupied several of the rooms adjacent to his and according to The Gleaner his daring escape from that secondary storey room was even more dramatic than had been his escape from prison.

Almost- simultaneous with the alleged letter from him to the police was a phone call purported to have come from him. In that call made to the Espeut Avenue home of a Government minister Martin was said to have threatened the life of both him and then Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.

Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1948

Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1948

ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1948 the beleaguered police thought they might have their man at last, (it wasn’t due to any direct action by them but by then they would welcome assistance from any source. Rumour ran through the city that the dreaded Rhyging’s body had been found in Hunt’s Bay. Dead or alive it wouldn’t have mattered and for a police force which had faced off with the fugitive before and come up short, dead would have been a more welcome state.

But, as The Gleaner of September 10 reported “Upon discovery of the body sub-inspector H.M. Wellington and CID fingerprint experts rushed to the scene took fingerprints and comparing them with those of the wanted man found that the dead man was not the two-gun killer for whom the police and volunteer vigilantes have been looking for since last week, Tuesday. Thus while height and other physical features of the body matched the dreaded Rhyging James Baker of 170 Spanish Town Road had not found the body of Rhyging as was so fervently hoped for.” Whatever Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin might have been, he also seemed to have been a man of letters, and be used the medium to give his alleged side of the story.

On September 12 The Gleaner published the contents of a letter supposedly sent in by him. The letter was addressed to The Gleaner Office, Kingston. That letter contained a chilling warning for several people including Eric “Mosspan” Goldson who Martin alleged had betrayed him to the police; Detective Sgt. R.L Scott Selvin Maxwell and a photographer named Brown who was alleged to have furnished the police with a picture of the fugitive.

The letter said. ‘Sir, I have all kin’ of statement in your paper. I just seek to let the public know what has taken place on 31.7.48. I went to the hotel. I reached there 920. At around 10 I saw a flashlight from the other room over the gablin. I called out who is that and the answer was the sound of a gun. I called again. Another shot was fired, still no answer. I then know what has happened. I decided to make a dash. I ran to the door with my pistol in my hand. I did not even have time to reach for my close [sic.]. I looked outside. I heard the sound of another shot- I see the men mean to make the end of me tonight, but I intend to carry someone with me. At that time I only had five shots with me. I can’t say which hand but I took them out of my pocket and put them away. I put myself outside. I was hit on my right shoulder. That did not mike much. I made my way for the airway. Reaching there I saw a lot of people. I just could not say if they were men or women ([Gleaner]Editor’s note: Some of the detectives present at the Carib Hotel had been dressed as women). One shot fired from the crowd struck the gun butt of my gun. I fired back.’

The letter went on to give the details of the escape. The letter was judged to have been authentic, either written by Rhyging himself or by someone under his dictation since it included details that were not hitherto made public. But though police followed up this and many other spurious letters the situation settled into what The Gleaner of September 6 had called “a war of attrition.”

That war was to continue into the month of October. The fear might not have subsided but press coverage of the extraordinary police effort faded from the day to day news for the rest of September and into the first week of October 1948. Then on October 8 The Gleaner carried the story of how the fugitive barely escaped the police at the Ferry River swamp. He had been tipped off, the story alleged by “tree top lookouts.”

The story said: “Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin, two-gun killer at large for six weeks now flashed back into the news yesterday morning when he barely squeezed through a police cordon which was closing in on him in the treacherous, swampy lands that abound the Ferry River on the road to Spanish Town. When the police reached his lair they found only his provisions and camping gear. He had fled. The desperado escaped in the nick of time, but all through the vigilance of one of his team of spies who was believed to have passed the word around while the police operation was in progress… A man named Clarke and woman have been detained by the police.”


Daily Gleaner, 1948

Daily Gleaner, 1948

From the December 4, 2000 Gleaner, C. Roy Reynold writes:
NEVER HAD the security forces been under such pressure. Never had they been so frustrated in their effort as that first week in September 1948 when the diminutive Ivanhose “Rhyging” Martin held the people of Kingston in fear and terror.

As sighting after sighting in almost every area of the city failed to yield positive result by police checkout the legend of his seeming ability to appear and disappear at will mounted. He now appeared possessed not only of a murderous malevolence but of supernatural powers.

Among the claims being made to the police was that now instead of a bicycle he was going around in an Austin car. The implication was that nobody in the city was therefore beyond his reach.

According to The Gleaner of September 6 he ‘skulked’ underground most of yesterday. “But he hardly seemed to have been “skulking” by other accounts. Other reports put him in the Tower Street/Fleet Street area wearing ‘iron blue’ trousers, shirt, a black felt hat and a shoes.” And “in a motorcar attended by four women”.

Another story put him in West Kingston and in a 1937 Ford car without licence plates. But frenzied scramble after frenzied scramble by the police turned up nothing.

Suspicious characters
An idea of the mood of the population can be gleaned from a paragraph in The Gleaner of September 6: “Yesterday householders kept round-the-clock watch for all suspicious characters. Telephones in city stations jangled unceasingly as many leads were turned in, some false, some well-meaning. But bypassing no calls police fanned out east and west to Mountain View Gardens, Denham Town and Jones Town. Carloads of detectives and constables combed the crime-haunted west end all of last night slipping through the maze of mean streets and cactus-lined lanes where the gun-mad killer might be hiding out.”

As the magnitude and intensity of the police effort rose they were hard put to find enough vehicles and private citizens tried to meet the deficiency by loaning their cars to the lawmen.

In one operation some 300 policemen cordoned off Springfield Gardens in eastern Kingston while water police craft patrolled the adjacent water. But no Rhyging.

According to The Gleaner, “Another report is that the ever-spitting 5’5″ slayer visited the vicinity of the home of Detective Sergeant Scott on Friday night. Martin is purported to have threatened the life of the officer in a letter received by the police. He did not attempt to enter the house.” The terror quotient had been ratcheted up still further!

Citizens who could, armed themselves and The Gleaner reported that “armoury stores have been broken out and brand new Webley revolvers issued to most of the rifle-armed constables. All leave passes have been cancelled and all stations alerted”.

But apparently Rhyging was not the only threat to the citizens of Kingston at that time. A city clerk travelling on the Stony Hill Road reported having encountered another gunman, but managed to disarm him and took the weapon to the police. Even more ominous was a Gleaner story of September 8 headed: “Underworld Shelters Rhyging, Police Hampered”.

Criminal elements
According to this report the 200 pounds reward offered had brought no result and “the whisper went the rounds in Kingston’s west end yesterday that criminal elements of the city’s population had declared war against the police and were actively aiding the two-gun killer in evading the police.”

Acting on this assumption there was a police round-up of several suspects who were taken in for questioning. Then, as now, the police was reported to have had no co-operation.

All day on September 7 the police were kept hopping from spot to spot as they followed up tips.

But if the fugitive had been lying low the reports did not reflect this. The sporty little man was reported to have been visiting several places of entertainment, including a movie theatre. Some of the sightings were remarkably detailed. For instance he was said to have been sighted along Waltham Park Road one early morning, standing by a shiny chrome-plated bicycle at which time he had been spoken to by a friend of his who was supposed to have told him: “Keep it up Rhyging. Don’t let them catch you.”

Then as now gun crime in Jamaica seemed to have had an American connection. Reports carried by The Gleaner said that since escaping prison Rhyging had been in the habit of emerging from hiding at night and only coming out in the mornings to buy a Gleaner and at times an American detective magazine “and reading up on police and crime methods in the United States.”

Piece by piece the police were building a personality profile of the dreaded ex-blacksmith little terror. But finding him seemed impossible.


On December 7, 2000, C.. Roy Reynolds continued:
AS SEEN in the last instalment, on October 7, 1948 the police again failed in their attempt to apprehend the escaped criminal Ivanhoe ‘Rhyging’ Martin, in the Ferry swamp where he and a few cronies had taken shelter. A Gleaner report the following day said the fugitives had been warned by a lookout in time to make their escape before the police moved in. The story suggested that Rhyging and company had made it out of the swamp and into the hills in the Ferry-Caymanas area, where they first took refuge in a cave and eventually made their way through the Red Hills area, to Molynes and finally to Greenwich Town.

Then the story took a strange twist, according to The Gleaner, and especially in the light of today’s police attitude… The police, it said, had been observing Rhyging on the night of October 9 in the vicinity of the Greenwich Town bridge, together with a character the newspaper identified only as “The Gleaner’s special photographer-reporter undercover man”.

The story went on: “No attempt was made to hold Rhyging then as the police were under instructions to the effect that Rhyging must be caught but no other person was to be killed or injured. It was dark also and it is difficult to capture a dangerous criminal in the dark.”

Intelligence reports said that Rhyging would have been taken to a cay outside Kingston harbour and from there attempt to board a boat which would take him out of the island or to someplace on the south-western coast of the island. But the police now had a clear drop on their quarry, and as we have already seen the next morning it was all over.

Before the body was buried in a plain pine wood coffin in a pauper’s lot in May Pen cemetery people besieged the mortuary in a bid to get a last look at one who must have been Jamaica’s most resourceful violent criminal. Among those blamed for his downfall was Eric “Mosspan” Goldson. According to The Gleaner, Goldson insisted that he wanted to see him dead, no doubt to satisfy himself that the police had got the right man and he was no longer in danger. The report said that after seeing the body Goldson remarked: “The race is not for the swift. Rhyging you gone at last!”

Then a small detachment consisting of two constables: R.A. Lindo and V.C. Morrison, undertaker Madden and his assistants set off for the cemetery with their grim cargo. To head off the vast crowd at the cemetery the party announced that they were heading for Spanish Town with the body. The body, clad in the same clothes in which he had been killed, was quickly interred without benefit of ceremony and with only a number to mark the spot.

Later, giving his account of the last hours of the chase the so-called “Undercover Gleaner Photographer-Reporter” said that after escaping from the police at Ferry they had crossed the Spanish Town Road into the hills above from which they were able to rest and observe the police activities. They made their way back to Kingston to Cockburn Pen where they separated with Rhyging going in search of a new hideout.

According to this account Rhyging’s friends managed to secure a canoe called “Gloria Again” to take him to the cay. “The boat was drawn up two chains west of East Avenue, Greenwich Town, but on arriving at the beach Rhyging had the boat removed to face East Avenue so that he could see up the street. Rhyging was undecided whether he should take the trip as he thought it would have been difficult for two men to row so far. He remained at the spot for some time not knowing that four pairs of eyes were focused on him.”

In the aftermath of the grim finale, the question on everybody’s lips was, who was Rhyging, this little man who had mocked the efforts of the entire police establishment for so long and who had either coerced or inspired so much loyalty from his friends. Was he truly “rhyging” in terms of the meaning of the word or just an over-dramatised character? The Gleaner would try to answer these queries.


Jazz in Jamaica from Sonny Bradshaw

sonny bradshaw


Sonny Bradshaw, the “Godfather of Jamaican Jazz,” wrote an article before he died in 2009 titled “Black History All Jazzed Up.” It ran in the Jamaica Gleaner during Black History Month, on February 10, 2008. Because Sonny lived through so much Jamaican music history, I reprint his words of gold here:

JAZZ-CLASSICAL black music – once taboo in Jamaica and referred to as ‘devil music’ by the churches, was not to be played on Sundays.
We had the popular music of North America and Europe played by what were called road bands in dancing halls like PORA (Prison Officers Relief Association) on Laws Street, The Jamaica Success Club (63 Upper Wildman Street), the Jubilee Tile Gardens (Upper King Street), the Forrestors Hall (North Street), the Progressive Lawns (North & Church Streets) and later Bartleys Silver City on East Queen Street, all in what is now called downtown Kingston.

But things and times changed along the way and the same churches were having fund-raising functions using the music of the day, ‘a little jazz’, now getting respectable, handed down from the North – those same slave-oriented sounds coming out of the brothels in the Caribbean Port of New Orleans in the USA.

The black music was getting white and the technology afforded more widespread dissemination and popularity in the ‘black’ neighbourhoods on the US mainland and in islands like Jamaica.

But we in Jamaica, land we love, are a different lot in many ways, culturally and otherwise. So much later and lots of water under the bridge, when the farm work project started, people like jazzman Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd spent a lot of his cotton-picking earnings to bring back records (78 rpms) of the music from Florida with the distinctive blues as well as rhythm and blues sounds to play on his box, called a sound system.

In time, these sound systems moved from their local surroundings of Pound Road (now called Maxfield Avenue) and South Race Course (home of Lord Koos) and eventually took over the dancing halls everywhere – and not just in Kingston.
The sound systems began substituting for road bands as they could play very long hours (without tiring) and the music was for both dancing and listening, as they played what could be called jazz and blues (what a term!).

The jazz part really got respectable when bandleader Milton McPherson promoted a two-night concert at The Ward Theatre called Fashions In Jazz (I can’t remember the year). But what gave jazz an extended popular music life was the series of Jazz Concerts – Carnegie Hall Style also at The Ward Theatre, devised by me and piano player civil servant land surveyor, Lloyd Adams. We kept up this series from 1954-58 with no foreign act, just Jamaican musicians and artistes.

It can be remembered that on the day of the first concert of the series only one ticket was booked, that by jazz lover Dudley Ball, but at showtime the 900-seat Ward Theatre was bursting at its seams, including the fowl coop gallery.

Jazz, the classical black music, was at the top of its game, later being included in Stephen & Dorothy Hill’s Celebrity Concert Series which first brought mostly white classical music. But later came international acts like the legendary Louis Armstrong, fantastic piano virtuoso young Oscar Peterson, breathtaking jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, a new (at the time) sensation, jazz singer Carmen McRae, who reportedly has Jamaican roots and the top of the modern jazz singers, the Divine Sarah Vaughan. These top acts could not be accommodated at The Ward Theatre alone, so the new Russell Graham ran 1900-seater Carib Theatre and even the open air Tropical Theatre on Slipe Road had to be pulled in to satisfy the jazz audiences of the day.

Underneath the music goings-on in North America, ‘the jazz’ as a dancing music was being undermined by the new young set of musicians of bebop as more so listening music (as Perkins would say, for the thinking persons) while in Jamaica a cultural sleeping giant was aroused with the advent of a second radio station, the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC).

Disbanding lofty ideas of a studio orchestra, arranger Carlos Malcolm and I were delegated to stay on board, thus promoting Jamaican music on air through the vehicle TADP (Teenage Dance Party), and the Jamaican Hit Parade Top 30 (popular music) from the stage of The Regal Theatre weekly.

The Jamaican recording industry got a real push, having more people being aware of the new cultural music, ska, rocksteady and reggae, on their doorstep. Our early ‘record producers’ also discovered that they could make money not just from royalties (they didn’t pay the artistes)
but also revenues from ‘publishing’ piling up in the outside world.

Jazz, the classical black music in Jamaica had lost ground and struggles today to stay in its rightful place through the dedication of the handful of musicians who do make their living from live music.

But jazz is taking another beating from persons and organisations, not excluding the church, that promote anything under the name of ‘jazz’ to make what Eric Coverley had described as ‘filthy lucre’, carrying the great masses along with the misleading idea of what this classical black music is. The Caribbean area is fraught with these jazz festivals that are made up of programmes of the popular music of the time of day, and any non-jazz megastar like the US$300,000 troubled Ms. Diana Ross, who recently visited Jamaica in our tourist city, Montego Bay, home of the past Reggae Sunsplash and current Reggae Sumfest.

With Black History Month at hand, it is hoped that the jazz renaissance will be assisted by the series of jazz & blues films being shown through the efforts of The United States: Embassy Public Affairs Division at RedBones the Blues Cafe throughout the month and also that other presentations will reflect, the true meaning of jazz, the black classical music that started its upward climb from the Caribbean port of New Orleans.

Playboy Jazz All-Stars Minus Don D.

Recently, I read a surprising statement somewhere (won’t say where) that Don Drummond was named to the Playboy All-Stars in 1964. This was the result of a readers’ poll that the magazine conducted annually. I was surprised, one, because I have never heard this or come across this before in my years of researching Don D., and two, because it would go against one of the major premises of my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonists, that a lack of recognition and acknowledgment of his talent, due to a variety of reasons that I outline in the book, contributed to his mental decline. So, I had to find out–was this true? Did I miss something this big? The answer was no.

I obtained a copy of that 1964 Playboy magazine, as well as one from 1965 in case the poll was taken in 1964 and published in 1965, and nada. Not one word about Don Drummond–not in the poll, nor in the excellent article (I was always told that Playboy had excellent articles! Ha ha) about the state of jazz that year in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, the articles give a snapshot, in a paragraph or two, of jazz worldwide and mention a few names, like Hugh Masekla, but no Jamaican at all. There is much editorial about the American jazz musicians overseas, and the jazz scene in Europe and Russia, but no Caribbean jazz is touched.

It is sad that I don’t see Don D’s name in these pages. He should have been here. He saw these lists, he saw the Downbeat articles, and it ate at him. His idols, J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding are here, and those he played with when they came to Jamaica, George Shearing and Dave Brubeck, are here too. Obviously I wanted to see that my argument was correct, that Don D was never treated fairly, but more than any selfish interest like that, I wanted to see that somewhere, sometime, Don Drummond was recognized. At least while he was alive.

Here are a few pages from those articles.

jazz1 jazz2




Don Drummond's idol, J.J. Johnson, named to the 1965 Playboy All-Stars.

Don Drummond’s idol, J.J. Johnson, named to the 1965 Playboy All-Stars.

Foggy Mullings

Seymour "Foggy" Mullings

Seymour “Foggy” Mullings

Whenever I do research on the early ska musicians, the name Foggy Mullings comes up on advertisements in the Daily Gleaner over and over again, although his days as a musician pre-date ska. It got me wondering, just who was Foggy Mullings and what was his contribution to Jamaican music? Turns out, it’s pretty big, and his contribution to Jamaica itself, even bigger.

Seymour “Foggy” Mullings was pianist and was a classical jazz musician. He was a member of the PNP and served as Member of Parliament, Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Ambassador between 1969 and 2004. He died on October 9, 2013 and Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who served as Don Drummond’s legal counsel during his murder trial, made the following statement about Mullings:  “We have lost a genuine champion of the people and an exemplary politician who served our nation well. Seymour ‘Foggy’ Mullings was an excellent political representative who was statesman-like in his approach to Ministerial and Ambassadorial duties. He was very much a man for all seasons who ‘walked with kings but kept the common touch’.

Foggy Mullings received his own billing but frequently performed with the other jazz groups of the day, including the Wilton Gaynair All-Stars. This group featured two Alpha Boys, Wilton himself, and Don Drummond after they both had left the Eric Deans Orchestra, and it also featured female guitar legend Janet Enright.

From the Daily Gleaner, November 17, 1954

From the Daily Gleaner, November 17, 1954 

From the Daily Gleaner, November 17, 1954

From the Daily Gleaner, November 17, 1954

Herbie Miller wrote the following article in the Jamaica Gleaner on October 20, 2013 with the title, “Foggy could have been great – No known recordings of late politician, musician leads to bigger loss:”

Seymour ‘Foggy’ Mullings was first and foremost a politician. For those who knew him, People’s National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party included, he is remembered not only as someone wholly devoid of spite or resentment but also, as described to the Gleaner’s Gary Spaulding, by his friend, Burchell Whiteman, as a professional and well-known jazz musician with a large measure of versatility.

His music reflected his “temperament, understated, calming and reflective personality”, Whiteman mused.

There was this certain elegance to his touch that was also quite noticeable in his demeanour. Neither in his playing nor his personality did this sophistication resemble the sort of pretentious mannerism associated with those who adopted such attitudes because they thought it increased social mobility and status.

Rather, I suspect Mullings’ qualities were associated with one who had remained true to the family ethics, social values and spiritual qualities of late rural lifestyle that produced and nurtured him.

In that regard, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson considered him a man for all seasons who walked with kings but kept the common touch.

In other words, Foggy Mullings was not just an exceptional musician, but also a man with a distinguishing personality infused into his music.

As a politician, Seymour Mullings served in many high-profile capacities. He was a senior officer in the PNP, a member of parliament, appointed minister in various portfolios, and after retiring from politics he joined the diplomatic community as ambassador to Jamaica in Washington, DC. In these capacities, he most certainly walked with kings, and indeed queens and other prominent world leaders and personalities.

If we consider Wilton “Bra” Gaynair, Harold ‘Little G’ McNair and Don Drummond kings among Jamaican musicians, then Foggy also stood with kings on the stage.

Taddy Mowatt’s 14-year-old vibraphone student, Marjorie Whylie, with an interest in jazz, encountered Foggy Mullings at Champion House during the 1950s. She riffs on that experience: “Everyone played at Champion House; ‘Little G’ McNair, Sonny Bradshaw, Lenny (Hibbert), (Ernie) Ranglin, Don Drummond, everyone. Even at that young age I detected in Foggy’s playing a George Sharing feel. His solos moved in blocks of chords, between both hands, and when he soloed with the right hand and held chords with the left, there was no doubt he was Jamaican by the way the melody flowed with a nuanced lilt. He was very influential to my development in that direction”.

Foggy Mullings also played in the Wilton Gaynair All-Star band at the Bournemouth Club during the late 1940s.

In adding a chorus of her own, guitarist Janet Enright recalled the line-up. “Wilton on tenor saxophone, Raymond Harper, trumpet, Foggy was on piano, Cluet Johnson was the bassist and Donald Jarrett, the drummer. I remember when members of the band soloed, they were all dynamic. We were all into dynamics; Wilton, Don (Drummond), Raymond Harper and little me, but when it was Foggy’s turn, he just swayed the people and the musicians. Everyone forgot dynamics. A soft aura just flowed over everyone and stilled them. There was nothing foggy about his music, it was angelic. He was much like Errol Garner; playing from the heart to the world, to every musician, everybody loved him. Sometimes when he was finished soloing, Wilton would go over and rest his hands on his shoulder; there was nothing to be said. He was too modest to handle compliments; he would politely change the subject and segue into something else. He was that soulful”.

Describing Mullings’ ballad playing as “powerfully gentle”, Enright counted among his favorite features The Way You Look Tonight, Full Moon and Empty Arms, which also featured Don, and Polka Dots and Moonbeams.

During the 1960s, and for some time after, I occasionally encountered Foggy Mullings at jazz sessions. That he was the musician’s musician was evidenced by the way other pianists would volunteer the bench and join the audience whenever he made a rare and mostly unannounced appearance at the Tit for Tat Club, Andante, Hotel Kingston, the Surrey Tavern or later on at the Blue Monk Jazz Gallery or the Mutual Life basement. At these sessions, I have seen and heard Foggy play with such effortless confidence on velocity charged numbers that were so swinging it elicited from musician and audience ecstatic applause, spontaneous finger snapping, foot tapping, and head nodding.

Unlike many other jazz musicians of his time, Mullings avoided crowd-pleasing roulades; instea opting for nuanced fluidity to produce inventive interpretations of the song’s melody. He infected these up-tempo tunes with splendidly cogent notes that were not only logical, but also superbly intuitive. His compelling harmonies and refined imagination turned well-known tunes into renditions that obscured their identity.

Foggy was no ordinary musician, as can be heard on a half dozen tunes I recorded from my radio some three decades ago. On each song, his sense of time and measure, his beat, remained consistently intelligent and intuitively compelling.

Mullings’ approach to slow tunes is just as engaging; his ballad playing exhibits relaxing lyricism, stable pulse and subtle melodic lines that are at once thrillingly elevating and intimately evocative.

Sensitively introspective harmonies also reflect his characteristic distinguished aura and gracefully illuminate his apparent affection for romantic standards.

On Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence’s Tenderly, for example, he seems to linger on the introduction, interpreting and reinterpreting it in multiple ways — if for no other reason than its utterly delightful tunefulness before exploring harmonic possibilities that seamlessly transform and personalise this well-known romantic song made popular by Nat King Cole.

Foggy’s interpretation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s standard, The Sound of Music, benefits from a lucid empathic reading.

Foggy never departs far from the melody, but by faintly addressing its structure he added a tropical light to the song’s western European pastel hue, providing a sunny and yet cool fusion while maintaining its sense of liberation and optimism.

Mullings’ playing betrays his musical influences. The piano styling of Nat Cole, Errol Garner and Teddy Wilson flow from his fingers. Like fellow pianists Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, he inflected infectious humour to sessions without sacrificing the cogent intensity of improvisation.

Utterly lacking a profligate attitude, for those who served with him in Parliament, Foggy was someone whose strong but understated personality was also reflected in his music; a music that portrayed the politician and musician as both statesman and gentleman, one so confident in his abilities that political audacity, personal bravado and musical showboating had no place in how he expressed himself.

While listening to my private recording, the late Harry Graham, on introducing the Leo Wilson Quartet, described its featured artiste, Foggy Mullings, as “one of the best pianists this country has so far produced”.

While there is ephemera attesting to his musical presence, it’s the nation’s loss that there is no known professional recording of Seymour ‘Foggy’ Mullings, the outstanding pianist. Although a politician of impeccable qualities, to those who encountered Foggy, the musician, it was clear he obviously took great joy in the vocation he did not pursue.


Hullabaloo Ska

In the mid-1960s, dances like the Frug, the Watusi, the Jerk, and the Swim were all the rage, sparked a few years earlier by the dance of all dances, the Twist. To capitalize on this trend, Eddie Seaga, then minister of culture, many years before he became prime minister, hired his school friend Ronnie Nasralla to study the people at the sound system dances where ska played. Nasralla, who would go on to become an advertising executive, created that now-famous pamphlet that taught the uptown crowds, tourists, and the world at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York how to do the ska. It was a step-by-step featuring himself and Jannette Phillips.

I was surprised when Nasralla told me he had done a photo shoot with models for Mademoiselle magazine, teaching them to do the ska, and you can find that blog post early in the Foundation Ska archives; but I was also surprised to find this booklet of those popular dances–including the Ska! Here are scans from those pages, so get your dancing shoes on and get ready for a Hullabaloo Discotheque!

hullabaloo1  hullabaloo2

hullabaloo3  hullabaloo4  hullabaloo5  hullabaloo6

Hard Man Fe Dead


Prince Buster recorded one of his most famous tunes, Hard Man Fe Dead, in 1966. The following lyrics detail the humorous tale of a man who is, to quote one of my favorite movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “not dead yet.” The mourners prepare for his burial with nine night, so I thought I would devote today’s blog to a discussion of the nine night. Before I do, here are the lyrics to that classic tune, Hard Man Fe Dead:

You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)

Them seh, the cat’s got a nine life
But this man got ninety-nine life, cause…
Them pick him up, you lick him down,
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)

Them boil one pot of chocolate tea.
And all the fried fish they caught in the sea
They also got six quart o’ rum
Saying that they waiting for the nine night to come

The last time I heard them say
That this man was dead (this man was dead)
They find him black eyes
And them lay it all upon his head (the man was dead)

Now the procession leads to the cemetery
The man all a howl, Don’t you bury me,
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead!

(Hard man fe dead, … hard man fe dead)

/Instrumental interlude/

Them boil one cup of chocolate tea
And all the fried fish they caught in the sea
They aso got six quart o’ rum
Saying that they waiting for the nine night to come

The last time I heard them say
That this man was dead (this man was dead)
They find him black eyes
And them lay it all upon his head (‘pon his head)

You should see them goin’ to the cemetery
The old man holla howl, Won’t you bury me?
Them drop the box and run,
What a whole lot o’ fun!
What a hard man fe dead! (hard man fe dead)

You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
I am a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead! … Hard man fe dead!)

Nine Night is a death ritual that stems from the revivalist religions and revivalists believed certain rituals had to be followed out of respect for the deceased otherwise they would return through obeah to torment the living. The first night featured the wake, the second and third days were the funeral and the remaining days brought visitors, but the ninth night highlighted the entire ceremony with singing and feasting until morning. A memorial service may occur on the anniversary of the departed. Nine Night is still observed by many Jamaicans today, even if they have no association with a revivalist cult.

Dr. Rebecca Tortello, contributor to the Jamaica Gleaner writes in her article “”A Time to Die: Death Rituals,” about the ritual of Nine Night. “It was important that the rituals were followed in a particular order so as not to offend the dead and ensure the spirit’s safe journey back to God. In African belief the self has three components – the body, the spirit and the shadow or duppy. Once the body is dead and the spirit began his/her journey to God, the duppy or shadow could live on and wreak havoc for the living if not given due respect. Long ago, it was believed that the spirit would return to Africa and therefore sometimes messages were sent to loved ones in activities that occurred during the nine-day period which gave the living the time to ensure that the spirit understood that it should depart from its home. Technically, the nine night is the period of mourning after death that culminates in ceremonies involving food and dancing on the ninth night. Following Christian custom, the soul’s ascent to Heaven is emphasised while African traditions call for more emphasis to be placed on placating the spirit of the dead person. Religious ceremonies tend to be staged first so as to ensure that the dead understands that it is time to leave his/her old home. If this is not done the spirit is said to haunt the living,” writes Tortello.

As a side note, Steely & Clevie’s “Nine Night Version” features a rhythm used in Pukkumina, one of the revivalist religions. Also, Dinkie Minnie was a function that was held to cheer up the family of the dead person or to banish grief and was performed by Miss Lou (Louise Bennett) during her presentations. She explains, “The Dinkie is eight nights after the death. From the first night to the eighth. The Ninth Night is a more religious ceremony. The Dinkie Minnie is to keep the family from grieving. And the number eight is definitely significant.”

A Daily Gleaner article I found on April 4, 1936 with the headline “Nine Nights After Death” and the explanation, “Being an account of the goings on at “Nine Night” Ceremonies when a proper and final adieu is said to the duppies at beloved but deceased ones” (By JACK O’KINGSTON),” is not only a detailed description of the Nine Night ritual, but a glimpse into the culture of the time and the haughty perspective of the writer. It is not only an examination of Nine Night, but also a study into the attitudes that shape the lingering harms of colonialism and classicism. It’s long, but I feel well worth the read.

Mr. O’Kingston, (if that is his real name!!) states: “Without doubt, the oldest and most popular of all African ceremonies carried out in Jamaica is “The Nine Night.” Not even all of the better class Jamaicans have found it possible to do away with this ceremony. In the wattled hut on the hillside, in the (unreadable) structure in the suburbs; great Jamaicans and small, with one and all, the “Nine Night” is an institution. There is the “Set Up” too, when close friends sit with near relatives all through the night following the departure of one from this world to the next; but this ceremony is sometimes passed over. No one is worried if a “Set Up” is not kept up; but to fail to hold a “Nine Njght”—such a thing is just not done. In the better class home the ceremony is not carried out with any rigid attention to ritual. Friends and relations gather in the drawing room, play the piano, sing softly a few hymns, look and act piously until midnight when a psalm is read, a prayer said and a farewell hymn sung in the apartment in which the deceased breathed his or her last. After that, innocent card games, jokes and idle chat among the young; a pipe and current topics among the old, pass away the time for an hour or two. Then quietly, one by one, sometimes in twos, the mourners disperse, never saying good night, for legend says it is the illest thing to say when leaving a “Nine Night.” So they drift off until only the homemates are left; and they also take to their apartments in like mysterious manner; and the doors and windows are closed-one after the other without haste. Then the lights, one by one, in this room and that, go out even as the people went, until it seems that darkness, step by step is gradually coming on, till, with the last existinguished light, thick shadows settle down upon the house of mourning.

THE REAL THING With the peasant folk, however, it is a different thing, as a fact it is The Thing— rites and rituals from beginning to end. The humble Jamaican looks upon the type of “Nine Night” kept up by the better class as “a pyah-pyahting,’” which means that it is woefully and completely lacking in the true dignity of a real honest-to-goodness-”Nine Night.” Indeed no real “Nine Night” can be held in a house. The proper thing to do is to spread a large tarpaulin on high sticks over the better portion of the yard in which the deceased lived, put a little table in the centre of this make-shift tent, arrange as many rough seats as possible under the canvas and throw the gates ajar. Of course the room to which the deceased lived and died must be left unoccupied, the bed immaculately spread, and a small table covered with a spotless cloth in one corner. A dimly burning lamp sends its feeble rays from the centre of the little table, while a pint of finest old Jamaica rum makes company for the lamp. The stage is thus now set, and waits, but not for long, upon the players who begin coming in from around seven o’clock. The first and principal performer to appear on the scene is the character known throughout “Nine Nightdom” as “de leadar.” There are scores of these leader chaps. They know “Nine Night” procedure, from A to Z. Not always can they read, but the right hymn and Bible passage are always, as one might say, at their fingertip. They know by heart every hymn from the front cover of Sankeys to the back page of Dr, Watt’s Hymnals; and every verse in the Bible dealing with the departure of human soul to the Great Beyond. These “Nine Night” officials have an uncanny instinct tor smelling out the location of “Nine Nights.” Hold your “Nine Night” in the depths of the sea or in the bowels of the earth and they will be there in numbers. The first one to arrive and take the chair which is set at the table in the centre of the tent will be the leader, and as the position carries with it a surprising allowance of rum, fried fish, bread and coffee, it is not necessary to describe the intensity of the “World War” that is fought ere the chair is taken.

HOWLING SUCCESS. A “Nine Night” is never a poorly attended ceremony. No matter how unpopular the deceased, how unknown, his “Nine Night” is always a howling success. Indeed there are persons who take up their stands near by the May Pen and other cemeteries and count the corpses that pass daily, ask diligently after the place from whence they come and count the days so as to be present at the “Nine Night.” Others there are, too, who walk about at night with ears pricked up and heads cocked like a bird of prey, listening, listening for the plaintive wail expressed in song that tells there is a “Nine Night” on. Still others there be too, who, on hearing of a person stricken ill enquire regularly of neighbors how fares the ill one. Yes, they even gather on the streets close to the “sick yard” and sing in “Nine Night” fashion such hymns as “On the Resurrection Morning,” “Sleep on Beloved” and “There is a Better Land,” because “it call de adder duppies fe come fe im.” After a couple days of mourning even the real mourners await with a thrill “The Nine Night,” Yet it is they, the close relatives of the deceased who carry the burden of the expenses. They must provide rum aplenty, fried fish, bread and coffee if there is to be any “Nine Night.”

AND NOW IT STARTS. “De Leadah having called for “Ardah frens” begins to track out the first verse of a hymn. Somewhere in the crowd a voice raises the tune; then altogether in one great inharmonious roar things get underway, women screeching loud, long and wrong, men bellowing in awful raucous tones. Everybody trying to outdo everybody else in volume, content to sacrifice every vestige of melody. A few such hymns and “de Leadah” calls out “Sola,” he really means that some person is to track out his or her own favourite hymn and sing all the verses while the crowd joins in the chorus. At the command “Sola,” a score or more persons leap to foot and there is a confused “tracking” of favourite hymns until “de Leadah” appoints who shall sing. Words cannot describe the screeching of the female or the roaring of the male which follows as the singer shows off on the crown how much he or she knows about fancy singing. Things follow this count of perfect inharmony until the leader, making a noise with his throat, announces that that section of his make-up is “dry.” That proclamation is a kind of code meaning “Time to pass around the rum.” The leader’s throat noise is at once echoed and re-echoed. So cups and cans, glasses and every imaginary drinking convenience are produced and rum is served plentifully. To the leader goes a half-a-pint. Throats are no longer “dry” and so the grand disharmony is resumed and vociferously continued until tea time (around eleven). By now there are no starving wolves, no vixen with a dozen yelps; indeed, no creature anywhere in the universe with a

GREATER AND MORE RAVENOUS desire for eatables than The Group huddled by choice under the limited confines of that tarpaulin. Scores and scores of small fishes go up to the entrance of wide and rapidly moving mouths, and in a split second vanish from view forever. Junks of bread share similar fate. Cups and more cups of hot coffee disappear before even the steam can pass off them. Half an hour passes in this vain effort to satiate the appetite of the “Nine Nighters.” Then when everyone is fully satisfied that there is nothing left to eat around, a droll lament is sung as the opening of a new phase of the ceremony. During this half hour until midnight only very important songs are sung. They are sung as softly as “Nine Nighters” can sing, which is just a wee bit below “FF.” Close to 12 o’clock they sing “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night” at the close of which plaintive tune the leader gets up and states, “Frens, de fambilr af de dead is gwing to leave we an gadder in de dead-room an discharge de dead; de res’ of we mus stay wey we is.” This announcement was expected, waited for. The close friends and relations of the deceased move towards the room in which the deceased expired. This room has been kept inviolate since nine days; to-night the bed is covered with spotless linen. On a table in a corner is a small lamp and a pint of White rum. The closest male relation to the deceased present, is selected. This selection always causes numerous male persons to vie with one another to establish claim as next of kin. When the matter is finally settled, if there is not a fight, the elected one calls out the words of a hymn which is sung in a low, dirgy sort of way, as if the singers were

SINGING IN THEIR SLEEP. Then they bow their heads and the leader leads in prayer. It is a kind of patent prayer. The same is said on every occasion with a little variation here and there, but the idea is never changed. The leader prays standing while the others kneel voicing their agreement with what is prayed by long grunts, sighs and low wails. Then the master of these quaint ceremonies takes hold of the sheet on the bed, pulls it off and tosses it to the floor. The mattress in like manner is treated. Then the bed laths are gathered in a bundle and thrown to the floor with a racket—the bed remains a mere skeleton standing in the little room. A lath is then taken and used

TO BEAT THE BED THINGS on the floor as though some evil person or thing sheltered between its folds. Finally the Master of Ceremonies takes hold of the pint of rum. By right the greater portion of the liquid spirit is to be sprinkled at the four corners of the room and the bed frame, some thrown through the window and a small quantity swallowed by the Master of Ceremonies. But this worthy “Nine Night” official usually reverses this order of things. On gulping down three-quarters of the pint of liquor the Master of Ceremonies calls the deceased by name, Say—”Obediah Wilson, you is discharge from dis ‘ouse in de name of de fatha, de son, an’ de Oly Gose.” The group sings “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night” and as the tune ends voices are heard cheerfully saying “good-bye, Obie, Good-bye.” Then led by the now staggering Master of Ceremonies the little group files out into the yard under the broad canvas to play dominoes, play cards, tell Nancy stories, ask for the (unreadable) riddles, sing popular songs, make love, gamble, fight—and on a certain occasion in Smith’s Village—Murder.”

Jimmy Cliff Teaches How to Do the Ska

jimmy cliff skank jimmy cliff skank2

During Jimmy Cliff’s live sets, and on his latest album Rebirth, he sings about his rise through the genres of Jamaican music. Here he shows the audience in Hammond, Indiana on July 16, 2014 how to “do the ska,” moves that were promoted by Ronnie Nasralla. I have written about this section of history before, but it bears repeating.

Ronnie Nasralla told me how he came up with the dance during an interview with him last year. “Let me tell you how it started. One day, Eddie Seaga, who was my close friend, called me. Eddie Seaga was friends with my sister. He was my sister’s boyfriend and he used to come by my house and I help him with his political campaign. Advertising was my forte. So I did all the advertising for the government, Eddie Seaga at that time. I help him with all his promotion. He told me he heard a music that was breaking out in Western Kingston called ska and he asked if I could promote it for him, so I said, ‘Well, I’d like to learn about.’ And we organized and I said, well Byron Lee is the best person to promote it. So we get together with Byron Lee down in Western Kingston and I learned the ska music. Eddie organized a dance at the Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston—it’s an outdoor nightclub. And Byron played there and all the ska artists performed with Byron and it was a sensation. He [Seaga] said to me, ‘Ronnie, move around the crowd and see what they are doing on the dance floor and see if you can come up with a brochure about how to dance the ska. So I did that, saw the people dancing around and came up with a brochure about a week after, how to dance the ska, give them different steps in the ska, and something that they could use to promote ska worldwide. That brochure was used by the government, they put it in all the record albums and it was sent all over the world and I was asked to go to the states and promote the ska with somebody and I got Jannette Phillips to dance with me. Jannette was a dancer, a belly dancer, a friend of my sister. We took pictures doing the different steps and the brochure was produced and given to the government and it was put in all the ska albums.”

Here is an example of that now-famous how-to that Jimmy Cliff brings to his audiences show after show. Yes, my friends, the history is still alive and well!



Hurricane Charlie

hurricane charlie headline

Typhoon Neoguri in Japan this week had me thinking of Hurricane Charlie which swept through Kingston and Jamaica in 1951. Why? Because talking to Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton, the great Alpha trumpeter two years ago when researching my book on Don Drummond left me with a vision so real that every time I hear of a tropical storm I am reminded of a young Don D. and a young Tan Tan caught in the middle of that ferocious hurricane that spared their lives.

hurricane charlie 9 4 51

Tan Tan told me his memories of the pre-ska days at the Colony Club performing with the Eric Deans Orchestra and that night that Hurricane Charlie came to pass. “Eric Deans was society. No poor people could come there. It’s just the lawyer, barrister, and tourist, mostly tourist. It’s an exclusive club. You have to have money to go in it. We used to play six nights a week—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. A lot of American tourist used to come there, every night. In those days a lot of American tourist used to come. It’s the club they come to first, they go to Glass Bucket after. Eric Deans was the best band in Jamaica and we play the same music that was played in America—Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James, everything. The music we played is America music. There was no ska in those days. Nobody know what was ska or reggae. There was the storm in 1951 in Jamaica. We went to work at the club and we knew the storm was coming. They say, okay, there is no club tonight because the storm is coming, to go home, right? Then we were riding, coming down South Camp Road to go home and then the storm gets worse, but we were lucky, it was just coming, so he ride over to his house and I ride to Alpha.” Not wealthy enough to have phones to notify them not to venture out, both were fortunate to survive the wrath of the deadly storm that killed more than 250 people. The storm even destroyed two buildings at the Alpha Boys School and four students there died.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, August 24, 1951

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, August 24, 1951

If you have memories of Hurricane Charlie or thoughts on this event, please comment below—would love to hear input.

The following is an excerpt from the Daily Gleaner, August 20, 1951, which gives an account of the wrath of Hurricane Charlie–pretty dramatic writing too, if I might say:

First positive information of its near arrival was the gentle west wind which blew up at about 9.15 Friday evening. Only A few minutes it blew. Then it drifted away. Fifteen minutes later the hurricane came. It hit with full fury from the very first. It pounded with sudden force unleashing all its power with one huge roar which levelled Port Royal and destroyed the Palisadoes Airport installations as it pushed its way across the leaping mountainous sea to crash through Kingston, ripping roots, uprooting giant trees, snapping steel and telegraph posts like so much matchwood. Ten minutes of such ferocity was sufficient to paralyse the city, knocking out electric and communication, blocking transportation. And while the headwinds rushed across and out of the near devastated city touching points here and there in St. Andrew to go pounding through Sp. Town and on across the countryside, the circular winds came in to throw ships off their moorings and up against the Palisadoes road and the airport runway and to complete the damage that had begun.

The hurricane reached its greatest intensity in the first forty-five minutes then kept a sustained and always dangerous strength for the next three hours. After 1.30 on Saturday morning the winds lessened appreciably but the driving rain increased the horrors of the darkened storm-lashed night and women and children huddled screaming in rain-washed wall corners, some thinking of those whom they knew to be dead, while others prayed for the dawn.

The Palisadoes Airport was levelled and such eastern Kingston and lower St. Andrew districts as Springfield, Bournemouth Gardens, Mountain View, Eden Gardens, Blown’s Town, Passmore Town, Franklin Town, Rollington Town, and Vineyard Town were so badly mauled that it appeared as though a giant hand had moved among them during the night ripping the roofs from off the houses and crumbling the weaker ones.

But all other sections of the city from east to west, below and above East Queen Street stretching north to a line passing through Cross Roads from Cockburn Pen to Mountain View Avenue and Old Hope Road there was a concentrated damage which made it impossible for comparisons to be drawn between any sections of the city.

Only in central lower St. Andrew in an area running just above Half-way Tree was damage kept to a minimum. In all other sections of the Corporate Area, few buildings escaped damage and the loss in furniture and home furnishings cannot be estimated.

Most of those dead were killed by collapsing buildings but seven were drowned on land and 16 in the harbor.