By Neil Armstrong TORONTO: Jazz percussionist, Archie Alleyne, was recently named a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions as a jazz percussionist and a mentor to young and emerging jazz musicians. Throughout his more than 60-year career, Alleyne has made a significant contribution to the fabric of the Canadian music and entertainment scene through his musical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts. His dedication to jazz and to youth is quite evident in a Black History Month celebration - the re-staging of Syncopation: Life in the Key of Black, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund’s 7th annual gala concert — that will be held on February 5 at the Al Green Theatre in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto. A grade 7 dropout in public school, Alleyne says it is a great pleasure and serious honour to be named to the Order. His only regret is that his mother, a homemaker and father, a railroad porter are not here to share the moment, they would have been very proud. Growing up, like most black musicians during that the 1940s, Alleyne, who was born in 1933, used to play at St. Christopher’s House, the UNIA Hall at 355 College Street in Toronto, and at private functions in the community. To pursue jazz as a livelihood, Alleyne had to do what was then called the “crossover.” “I had to leave Spadina and Dundas and go up to Bloor and Avenue Rd. where most of the white musicians were working and I had to more or less infiltrate the music scene. It finally worked out and I played well enough that they couldn’t chase me away. Nobody could play like I did,” says Alleyne. The UNIA Hall, though small, was the main community centre for the black community in Toronto from the 1930s to 1950s. Important decisions were made there, its dances were popular and the second floor housed the railroad porters’ credit union. “It was a significant building for us,” says Alleyne. tribute Syncopation will pay tribute to the African-Canadian musicians that performed at the Hall which spawned a hotbed of talent and luminaries such as Cy McLean, the pianist and band leader billed as Canada’s Count Basie and Phyllis Marshall, the Barrie-born songstress who performed at Toronto’s fabled Silver Slipper dance pavilion. There will be an accompanying photography exhibit which runs from Monday, February 6 to Friday, February 10, at the Africentric Alternative School and also from Monday, March 12 to Sunday, March 18 at the BAND Gallery. This will be a rare opportunity to see photos and biographies archived by Alleyne over two decades that tell the little-known story of McLean, Marshall and the first all-Black Swing band of note, the Harlem Aces. Marshall did a show at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and that’s where Alleyne met her. He was perhaps the first black musician to work at the CBC as a steady employee for special engagements. McLean, who had one of the first black bands in Toronto, was his mentor. Alleyne said cLean broke the barrier on Yonge St. In 1947 McLean was hired to go into the Colonial Tavern which was one of the main establishments on the street. It wasn’t until then that black musicians start to work on the Yonge St. strip. A few years later Alleyne went into the Town Tavern which was at Victoria St. and Queen and stayed there for 13 years. He was backing up musicians like Billie Holiday, Penny Webster, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Mel Torme, Big Joe Turner, Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae and Nina Simone. Most of the black musicians in Toronto worked together at some point, because in the 1940s they couldn’t venture too far out of their own area. Co-hosted by CBC Toronto TV news anchor and co-host Dwight Drummond and Jay Jackson, the Feb. 5 dynamic suite of live jazz, dance and photography, sponsored by the TD Bank Group, features Canada’s finest talents including, Gemini and Dora Award-winning Jackie Richardson, Juno Award-winning Kellylee Evans, Dora Award-winning tap dancer and choreographer Shawn Byfield, and many more take to the stage. It is composed by Alleyne with Dr. Andrew Scott, and will be performed by Alleyne’s nine-piece Evolution of Jazz Ensemble. The Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund was established in 2003 in recognition of 70th birthday by Howard Matthews and Patrick Warner. It provides mentorship and financial assistance to deserving young artists pursuing advanced music training and education. Administered by the Brandon Street Community Development Foundation, the scholarships are awarded each year to musicians aged 25 and younger, who maintain high academic standards and contribute to their community. To date, 17 bursaries and scholarships have been awarded. Two more scholarships will be awarded at the February 5 event. One of the recipients is a student at York University who will be graduating with a Masters degree. “I’m trying to get youth to play instruments which means you have to go to school and you have to study. You’re not going to be financially rewarded right away, it’s just like any other profession, you have to study what you intend to do,” says Alleyne. Alleyne is the recipient of many awards honouring his achievements, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Urban Music Association of Canada, the African Canadian Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement, the International Association of Jazz Education Recognition for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education, and the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association (the formal presentation will be made at the fundraiser).