|Jazz and mento
have enjoyed a long relationship, with recordings first appearing in the
1920s and continuing today. Jamaica produced not only a rich repertoire of
folk/mento songs, but also a host of talented jazz musicians. It's not
surprising that Jamaican jazz musicians would take these songs and perform them
1920s - 1940s
The liner notes
of Boogu Yagga Gal alert mento fans to the early
Caribbean-Jazz recordings of two Trinidadians, Sam Manning and
Lionel Belasco. Both traveled to New York City, where they recorded the
earliest versions of Jamaican mento songs in the jazz style of the 1920s. As
seen below, these songs can be heard on CD
collections that are in print and readily obtainable.
Sam Manning was Trinidadian, he sometimes used Jamaican musicians in his bands. From
1924 through the start of the 1940, he made 53 jazz recordings. Eleven of them are mento songs, or
utilized part of a mento song. Manning recorded a number of these sides with
either the Cole Mentor Orchestra or Aldophe Thenstead's Mentor
Boys. Interesting! The fusion of 1920s jazz and "mentor" music, often complete with
banjo, is an enjoyable combination. Thirty years before mento's
golden age began, jazz-mento recordings were being made in New York City.
(Thanks to Matthias Münchow of Hamburg, Germany for the picture, right, of
Sam Manning, circa 1935.)
complete recordings of Sam Manning are collected on two CDs on the
Jazz Oracle label. Each volume includes comprehensive liner notes.
Below are the mento songs on
Amba Cay La (melody from
Bargee (with different lyrics)
Bongo (melody from Rukumbine)
Bungo (melody from Rukumbine)
Hold Him Joe (instrumental)
Lignum Vitae (two versions) (Mama Look Tea)
Susan Monkey Walk (melody from Mattie Rag)
Sweetie Charlie (melody from My Matilda, or What A Hard Time)
Womans Sweeter Than Man (melody from Yellow Bird, plus another familiar
melody I just can't place)
The CDs did not capture all of Manning's
On Decca, this Sam
Manning album of 4 78s dates from December 1941. It's called
West Indian Folk Songs, and as the jacket indicates, three are from
Jamaica. His backing band for all 8 sides is jazz band The Felix
Krazy Cats. The same image appears on the back jacket.
The Jamaican songs are
"Salt Lane Gal",
"Iron Bar" and
"Tillie Lend Me Your Pigeon".
The latter, part of a medley,
may not in fact be part of
Jamaica's folk song repertoire.
Around the same time that
Sam Manning made the above
recordings, or perhaps even
recorded "Sly Mongoose".
composed and recorded "Caroline", which is sometimes performed by mento
Belasco led the first black jazz band to
have been recorded. He is also considered to
be the first
recording artist to help popularize music from the Caribbean. "Goodnight Ladies & Gents", on the Rounder Select
label, is the only collection of Belasco's recordings.
of his output out of print. Happily, the collection
includes "Sly Mongoose". (Thanks once again to Matthias Münchow for the
picture, right, of Lionel Belasco, circa 1955.)
At the end of the 1930s,
the unlikely named Jack Sneed And His Sneezers recorded several
sides of jazz out of New York with some Jamaican elements. Sneed sings
with a WI accent, but I am not sure he is Jamaican. His songs include:
- Sly Mongoose,
the ever popular
- West Indian Blues,
in which he sings about returning to Jamaica
- Jamaica Mama,
utilizing the melody
Sly Mongoose with new words listing
some Jamaican foods
||The first two track can be heard
on the too narrowly named CD, "Jazzing The Blues Volume 4". Jamaica Mama
along with a handful of other Jack Sneed songs can be heard on the out of
print CD called "Billy Kyle, 1937-1938".
1940s and 1950s
In the 1940s, Jamaica had a
thriving jazz scene, with a number of prominent big bands, such as The
Eric Deans Band. Sadly, there are no recordings from this era, so I can
only speculate that these bands included Jamaican folk/mento songs in their
When Jamaica's own recording
industry began in the 1950s, in addition to the rough and rural country style
of mento that was a
forbearer of reggae, a second type of mento was performed and recorded. This
was the more polished and dance-band
style, which utilized jazz musicians and jazz music to arrange mento songs.
Artists included Lord Fly and the Dan Williams Orchestra, Ben Bowers and
Baba Motta and His Orchestra, Hubert Porter and The Tower Islanders,
American jazz-calypso-mento singer
Marie Bryant, and
others. Additionally, some artists, such as Count
Lasher would record both in the rural and urban mento styles. Urban
mento jazz song clip can be heard on the More Artists
and Favorite Song Clips page and the original records can be seen on the
Scans pages. The 2004 CD
release, "Mento Madness", has a good portion of
1950s jazzy urban mento.
Look at this portion of a page from the Daily Gleaner from December
31, 1954. There was an exciting array of live jazz and/or mento
option to choose from that News Year's Eve. You could select
Count Lasher, Charlie Binger's Orchestra,
Sonny Bradshaw, or others.
(To allow legibility, the large
version of this image is over 700 KB and 1,400 pixels wide.)
Hartley Neita, writing in the
June 10 issue of The Gleaner, richly recalled the Kingston’s dance band
scene in his article “Dancing in Clubs of Yesteryear”. Many familiar names
from mento and other less familiar names were remembered by Harltey.
the 1940s and 1950s, there were at least twelve night clubs in the
Corporate Area which featured live orchestral music some for two nights
(at week ends); others up to six nights weekly.
orchestras were of various sizes from trios led by Frankie Bonnitto, to
twelve-man bands led by Roy Coburn, Eric Deans, and Ivy Graydon. The
latter, the only female dance-band musician at the time, played at
Springfield in eastern Kingston. Coburn led a jazz dance band at the
Bournemouth, also in eastern Kingston, while Deans played at the Colony
in Cross Roads. Other bands included Whylie Lopez, George Moxey, Milton
McPherson, Baba Motta, Cliff Beckford, Redver Cooke, Baron Lewis and Don
Hitchman. Sonny Bradshaw's sessions at Silver Slipper in Cross Roads
brought out the teen-age crowd with their jitterbugging, buggy-riding
and other dance steps of the time.
orchestras also played before the matinee shows at the Carib and movies
in Cross Roads, or before the first night shows at the Palace and other
movie houses. In addition to the music at these night shows, there were
also what was called "other acts" and which included belly dancing by
Madame Wasp, Madame Sugar Hips and Madame Temptation. The bands also
played for the Opportunity Hour contests promoted by Vere Johns, and
which unearthed many top talents in singing and dancing.
Corporate Area lost many of its musicians, such as Bertie King, Ossie
DaCosta, Wynton Gaynair, Joe Harriott, Coleridge Goode and Ben Bowers,
who migrated to Britain where they became well-known stars and were
invited to accompany American orchestras when they went on tour of
Europe. Many of our musicians, such as Cecil Lloyd, Billy Cooke, Leo
Wilson, Lennie Hibbert and Janet Enwright also went to Montego Bay and
later Ocho Rios to play in the hotels. For three months each year the
winter tourist season, these musicians were not heard of, as the hotels
at the time did not welcome Jamaican guests.
great individual jazzmen at the time. The Mecca at which they performed
was the Bournemouth. Coburn's orchestra included Gaynair, Tommy McCook,
Don Drummond, Vernon Muller, Raymond Harper, Fitz Colash and Roland
Alphonso. The band played there twice each week, with the stage
sometimes having 30 musicians. These included Harold 'Little G' MacNair,
Ernest Ranglin, Lloyd Adams, Seymour 'Foggy' Mullings, Con Allison and
teenagers and early twenty-year-olds, we took the bus and tram to
Outlook Avenue on these nights, walked to the Club, and after the dance
ended (11:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and 1.00 a.m. on Friday nights) we
walked home to Vineyard Town, Cross Roads, Beechwood Avenue and
elsewhere in the Corporate Area. No gunman or rapist ever harmed the
also the glory age for singers. There was Archie Lewis who migrated to
England during the early '40s and became Britain's most popular singer.
Some, as Winston Roach did, patterned the style of Nat King Cole, but
there were other great song stylists, such as, Sheila Rickard, Blossom
and Louise Lamb, Francisco Francis, Buddy Ilgner (whose voice had echoes
of Frank Sinatra), Carlyle Heywood, Hubert Porter and Mercedes Kirkwood.
There were also the mento and calypso singers. Lord Flea and Lord Fly
ruled the roost, along with Count Lasher. They added spice to the glory.
1960s is was common practice for Jamaican hotels to sell singles and albums
by their resident musical acts. These ranged from classily rural to
sophisticated jazz, with some falling in-between. Good examples of a very
jazzy hotel LPs are
"Jamaican Carnival at The Myrtle Bank" by
Baba Motta and Orchestra" and "Carnival
at The Tower Isle", by Cecil Lloyd and His Orchestra, both
released on the Carib label and described on the
Middle Period Album Scans
page. Songs clips from the former can be heard on the
More Artists and Favorite Song Clips page.
The liner notes for the LP
below, "Jamaican Party Time" start with the statement, "This is an unusual
album". This is true for a number of reasons. First, it does not
appear to be hotel affiliated. Second, the liner notes are informative with
information on the featured musicians and on each song -- and even explains
that it's mento, not calypso! Third, it gathers an impressive collection of
|Side one is mento jazz
Baba Motta (piano),
Ernest Ranglin (guitar and bass(!)),
Thaddy Mowatt (vibes) and
Bertie King (sax and pan whistle)
|1. Linstead Market
2. Wheel and Turn Me
3. Come Back Liza
4. Solas Market
5. Brown Skin Gal
6. Mango Walk
June 4, 2006, Jamaica Observer, an article by Herbie Miller give us some
background on Bertie King, who’s career ran from the 1930s through
the 1950s. Miller explains that King was a Jamaican jazz musician who:
"was a fixture
on the European scene. King played clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone
equally well and was an extraordinary arranger. King was on British
piano legend George Shearing's first recording and also played and
recorded with Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. After performing with
many of the top calypsonians in Britain, King returned to Jamaica in the
late 1950s where he was a pioneer radio orchestra participant at the
then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC), where along with Sonny
Bradshaw and Carlos Malcolm, he produced entire musical programmes. He
was also responsible for the success of the hit mento recording Healing
In The Balm Yard by the Ticklers."
Side two is not mento or
jazz. Other than the second track, the instrumentation is uncredited, though
Mohair Slimhas informed me that the guitar is by Melbourne, Australia’s
Dennis Sindrey (as part of The Caribs).
1. Tell Me
Darling (R&B with vocals by Wilfred Edwards)
2. Dragon's Paradise (Cha Cha instrumental by Byron Lee and The Dragonaires)
3. Worried Over You (R&B with vocals by Keith and Enid)
4. R&B with vocals by Wilfred Edwards)
5. Pretty Baby (Cha Cha/R&B with vocals by Teddy Brown)
6. Time To Pray (R&B/gospel with vocals by The Mellowlarks)
Thanks to George Dixon of
NYC for a copy of this LP, the scans, and for sharing his recollections
This LP is
probably one of the very first albums I asked my aunt to purchase for me
when I was about eight years old. I've loved and appreciated this LP
ever since then. Every single track on this LP brings back memories of
the house I lived in above my aunt's grocery store in town of Retreat,
Jamaica West Indies. When most young boys are out playing sports, I was
inside listening to my precious ska, mento and calypso music. Thanks to
this web site, we can promote and extend the life of these rare gems.
In 2010 I heard from
Lowell Morris, the drummer for The Caribs with the
I am Lowell
Morris, the drummer with THE CARIBS band in Jamaica 1958 to 1962. I
found a few errors in the lineups with that LP. First I played with
Ernest, Monty and Taddy (not Thaddy) Mowatt who was a bass player and I
don't think Ernie ever played bass. I'm not positive about the drum
player, it could have been me depending on the date it was made. Excerpt
for "Dragon Paradise" and "Time To Pray" the rest of side 2 were all
originally on 45s, the singers were backed by The Caribs, Dennis Sindrey
and Ernest Ranglin (guitars ) Peter Stoddard ( piano ) Lloyd Brevett
(bass) and me (drums). Any sax bits could have been either Max Wildman
or Roland Alphonso. Dennis, Peter, Max and I were all Australian.
Regards to you and yours. Lowell, PS I also played and or recorded with
Ernest, Monty, Roland, Cecil Lloyd, Bertie King and Carlos Malcolm.
On the Sundown label, here is "Unforgettables", an LP from
the late 1960s or early 1970s by Baba Motta. Motta is showing
off his range, with medleys covering mento, fox trot, waltz, ballad,
cha cha cha, bolero and jazz. The mento medley consisted of the
songs listed right. From the better than usual liner notes, we learn
of Motta's musical history travels over seas, the names of his
quartet and that his real first name is Alfred. And the
jacket features Baba's photo.
The mento medley:
Teacher Lick The Gal
Fan Me Soldier Man Fan Me
She Pon Top
||Courtesy of Charles
Jackson, of Massachusetts is this interesting LP by
Baba Motta. Taking the label at face value,
it's an audition record that Baba
had pressed. It consists of his piano and vocal ranging through a
collection of standards, plus Linstead Market.
Charles had four copies of this LP for sale. For
details, see the For Collectors page.
Here is an autographed 1960s LP by golden-age
urban mento band leader George Moxey:
"Plays Music For Dancing" on the Twilight label.
The autograph reads:
To Mr Harry Atkinson
With best wishes
From George Moxey
Though there is little that is mento or Jamaican
on this jazz LP, at least the liner notes give us a bit of biography
on Moxey. He is native to Nassau and was active since the late 1930s. Moxey
was all over Jamaican radio through the 1940s. He returned to Nassau in
1954. The LP is recoded with the Ernest Ranglin trio and he counts Ranglin
as something as a mentor.
In 1993 Jazz Jamaica released their first album, Skaravan. It
included a jazz-mento version of "Peanut Vendor". The band is led by
nephew the of Ernest Ranglin, bassist Gary Crosby.
thru today and Monty
Though the dance band style of mento faded away by the
end of the 1960s,
jazz would continue to enrich Jamaican music, as illustrated in the
Jamaican Music Roadmap. From the 1980s onward,
Jamaican jazz keyboard star Monty Alexander
revived the mento-jazz tradition from its brief slumber. Though he left Jamaica in the early 1960s to
bring his piano skills to a who's
of American jazz and pop, Monty Alexander never lost his Jamaican roots. In
addition to fusing reggae and jazz, Monty also made a number of mento songs
part of his jazz recording and performing repertoires.
Non-Mento Cover Versions of Mento Songs page
for a list of mento songs Monty has recorded.)
By this, Monty brings the mento-jazz tradition into its ninth documented
decade. Both pictures are from a June 26, 2004 performance in NYC, where
Monty Alexander and special guest Ernest Ranglin included "Sly Mongoose" in
In November 2005, Charlie Hunter, Ernest
Ranglin, and Chinna Smith released the jazz CD "Earth
Tones" on the Gse label. It includes a version of "Island In The
In March 2006, Monty Alexander's "Concrete
Jungle" CD featured a track with the Rod
Dennis Mento Band. It's a rural mento cover of
Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Three Little
Birds", featuring Monty on melodica.
To celebrate the release of this CD, on April 24th
at B. B. King’s club in NYC, Monty Alexander staged the ultimate Jamaican
music mash up. First, there was the fusion of reggae and jazz. Monty’s jazz
trio was supplemented by six reggae musicians. The group would switch back
and forth from jazz trio to big reggae band, often within the same song.
Monty’s jazz piano dueled with reggae organ. Stand up bass traded licks with
electric bass. Jazz and reggae drummers took turns or played together. The
lines blurred as Monty jammed on melodica, playing jazz lines and reggae
A generous portion of Bob Marley tracks from “Concrete Jungle” were
performed. During the only Monty Alexander composition of the night,
“Strawberry Hill”, Monty’s solo touched on “Linstead Market” and “Mango
Walk”, and urban jazz-mento, as first recorded in the 1920s, was added into
Next was guest star Dean Frasier, who played leads and solos galore,
including leading the band in a rendition of “Dick Tracy”, as ska joined the
party. Then guest star Luciano took the stage and performed several
spiritual neo-roots originals (such as "It's Me Again Jah") with jazzy backing, and shared vocals with
other band members on a jazz-reggae version of Marley’s/Selasie’s “War”.
||Monty and band with Dean
But that was not all for this pepper-pot. As a
finale, mento singer and banjo player Carlton James from
The Rod Dennis
Mento Band joined the proceedings, and played an unidentified mento song.
The dapperly attired Mr. James charmed and good spirits abounded on stage
and in the audience.
banjo!”, a beaming Monty exclaimed. The band and audience laughed. The
electric bass simplified to emulate a rumba box. Dean Frasier jammed
on soprano sax. Monty explained that he was playing the sound of a
bamboo sax, “like Sugar Belly”. On cue, Dean played the refrain from
Sugar’s hit, “Skokian”. A smiling Monty rubbed Dean’s
considerable midriff, and proclaimed to the the
“sugar belly!” Monty added piano and reggae melodica as Carlton lead the
group in a mento “Three Little Birds”, as the audience danced and sang
along. Nate Chinen writing a review of the show in The New York Times took
note of Carlton as "an elder statesman of the Jamaican folk style
called mento. Beginning 'Three Little Birds' by himself, Mr. James
offered an unsweetened, intoxicating taste of that tradition".
This was the first time rural mento was performed in Manhattan since
– ever?! Not to mention combining rural mento, reggae and jazz into one
It was an exceptional night of musical excellence and positive vibes. Musicians of
the highest caliber respectfully played a tapestry of
Jamaican music styles that spanned more than 100 years. There should be more
shows like this!
In March of 2008, Monty
Alexander did it again, staging 4 performances of a show called "Lords of
The West Indies" at Jazz At Lincoln Center in NYC. It had jazz,
calypso-jazz, mento-jazz, reggae-jazz, acoustic rural mento (small combo and
big band), and jazz renditions of Bob Marley music. It was an ambitious show
and its ambitions were fully realized.
First, the concert goers were entertained
pre-show in the lobby by a pan (steel drum) player and by a quartet of
nyabinghi drummers called Ancient Vibrations. As you can see in photo
below, Cedric Im Brooks would sit in, while
Carlton James looked on. Brooks would
later jam with his saxophone.
Monty opened with his trio and included a
jazz-mento rendition of "Mango Walk". A reggae-jazz rendition of "King Tubby
Meets the Rockers Uptown" with Monty moving from melodica to piano excited
the audience. Calypso performers joined the stage for a calypso set. Some
songs performed would be familiar to a mento, such as Lord Kitchener's
"Love In The Cemetery" (a song covered in mento and reggae) and "Bebop
Calypso" (a video of Lord Flea covering
this song is on this site).
Then came a mento set that began with "Nobody's
Business", performed by (left to right), Joseph "Powda" Bennett of
The Jolly Boys on lead vocals, maracas
and dancing, Pluto Shervington on guitar, Albert "Calypso John" Morgan of
The Happy Smilers on rumba box and
backing vocals, and Carlton "Blackie" James of the
Rod Dennis Mento Band on banjo and
some lead vocals. This was well received by the audience, but when the
septuagenarian Powda began to dance, he stole the show. Additional musicians
supplemented the quartet for the next song, a
mento-jazz rendition of Sly Mongoose: a horn section consisting of Cedric Im
Brooks on sax and Dean Fraser on alto sax, Pluto Shevington on acoustic
guitar Desmond Jones of Chalice on drums and Monty on piano. Not one to
leave an audience wanting, Powda broke into dance several times, delighting the crowd each time. At one point,
Monty ran up and held his microphone to Powda's feet! Next they performed a wonderful version of "Salt Lane Girl". And
if you thought you heard all you need to from "Day-O", the version performed
here would change your mind and leave you wanting more. Monty's jazz band
joins in, creating a big band. At points, the instrumental theme from "Rukumbine" worked in by the
saxes and Monte on melodica.
The calypso musicians joined and the band now
numbering fifteen played "Mary Ann". As an encore, Monty closed with a pair
of Bob Marley songs, Redemption Song and No Woman, No Cry, done in jazz,
with Dean Frasier sitting in.
Monty Alexander must be recognized as the single
artist that most appreciates, demonstrates and celebrates the breadth of and
relationships between the different forms of music indigenous to and
otherwise enjoyed in Jamaica.
This show will be eventually broadcast on the BET
J network. Information will be posted when available.