Soldiers shaped by music
Skatalites members Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore (trumpeter) and Lester Sterling (saxophonist), as well as musical mentors Winston 'Sparrow' Martin, Victor Hemans, and saxophonist Nicholas Laraque, are just a few of the more popular musicians who honed their skills in the armed forces like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).
It is not that many of them did not learn music prior to enlisting in the army or training to become a police officer, but a select few received greater opportunities to study music while serving. First recruited as soldiers, police officers, or members of the protective services, band members of the JDF and JCF are sometimes sent to the UK and the USA for formal musical training.
Sparrow Martin, who was thought to be particularly disorderly and was sent to the Alpha Boys' School (now Alpha Institute) told The Sunday Gleaner that learning the French horn, drums, and trumpet and to read music became possible while he was in the now 90-year-old military band. "It was a strict sort of training and really give me a chance, and now I am at Alpha applying the same training. Some of the boys in the music band have transitioned into the military band. For me, the decision to join the military band after school was because of the classic music marches," Martin said.
He also served as a member of the constabulary band before creating the Sparrow Martin Band. "I wanted to get to know, other types of music like jazz. At that moment, musicians like Charlie Binger, Val Bent, Sonny Bradshaw and Frankie Bonitto sparked my interest. I worked in the morning at the military, left to explore and be back in camp before 12 a.m.," Martin continued.
Laraque, who still plays for the likes of Beres Hammond and Stephen Marley, said: "At one instance, I was doing more combat stuff, never thinking that I wanted to pursue a career in music. I used to be the type of person that says, 'what is that noise', but now it is a constant healing thing for me in some way or the other." The saxophonist is known for holding long notes and impeccable breath control and says that "with a pattern to practise something over and over it, soon developed". This is partly owed to the training received as a military musician.
The three JDF bands - the Regiment Band, the Military Band, and the Pop/Dance Band - are all part of the JDF's focus to train officers and expose its members to Jamaican heritage. The music, as part of Jamaica's culture, makes it all the more interesting for members to continue educating youth, in particular aspiring young soldiers, through their performances.
Warrant Officer Class 1 Albert Hird, military band director, and his brothers, Corporal Errol Hird (a saxophonist for Beres Hammond), Lance Corporal Patrick Hird (percussionist), and Ian (music teacher) were wards of the state but found a voice within the JDF and are repaying by acting as mentors. Hird hopes to start a career in music technology entrepreneurship after leaving the service.