Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Today, the 22nd Annual International Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz Festival continues with a free concert at the Ocho Rios Shopping Centre.
There is also the continuation of jazz villages at Hotel Four Seasons in St Andrew and at the Sunset Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios.
At the two venues, jazz lovers may witness the impromptu stylings of jazz players from all over the island, as the event allows for musicians to just come and enjoy playing.
the series was launched on Saturday with an enthusiastic audience at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston, first enjoying a cocktail hour in the lobby before entering the theatre space for three and a half hours of lively music.
They got jazz and more - mento, reggae, ska, a touch of dancehall and, finally, about 45 minutes of jazz with a Jamaican-Brazilian flavour, courtesy of the Ba-Boom 11-man band from the South American country.
Join the fun
The festival, a Jamaica 50-endorsed event sponsored by, among others, The Gleaner Company, will, appropriately, be staged in several sections of the island. In between the Kingston launch and the Turtle River Park, Ocho Rios, closing on Father's Day (June 17), the festival may also be enjoyed in St Elizabeth, Negril and Port Antonio.
In an evening packed with delights, one of the most poignant was the appearance of former Vagabonds member Jimmy James who was performing in Jamaica after many decades abroad. Now middle-age and portly, the nattily dressed singer was described by emcee Errol Lee as a "living legend".
After leaving Jamaica, James performed with numerous big musical names. These include The Who, The Beatles, Sonny and Cher and Jimi Hendrix.
Claiming he was a little nervous to be on stage again before a home crowd, James was nevertheless charming and ebullient as, with his rich baritone, he evoked nostalgia in the audience, singing many old hits. They included How Sweet it Is, I'm Standing By, Red, Red Wine, Come to Me Softly, and the sentimental Jamaica.
During the intermission, he mixed with the audience, telling The Gleaner, he was overjoyed to be back visiting and grateful for the positive response to his songs.
The evening opened with a jazz version of the National Anthem, performed behind the curtain by the Jamaica Big Band. When the curtain parted, the band, which occupied the wide stage, included Marjorie Whylie (keyboard), Desi Jones (trap drums), Rupert Bent (guitar) and Ouida Lewis (percussion).
Bringing the audience back
Lewis said the band would give the audience a musical overview of Jamaican music through the years. mento was represented by Ruckumbine, reggae by Small Axe and I Don't Wanna Wait in Vain (sung by velvet-voiced Myrna Hague), and dancehall by Tiger's No Wanga Gut.
Wanga gut was treated to the late Sonny Bradshaw's special jazz arrangement. His arrangement showed dancehall can sound sophisticated, and the applause indicated appreciation.
The Big Band was replaced by a much smaller ensemble comprising Jones, Chris MacDonald on keyboard and Adrian 'Jerks' Henry on bass. This trio backed the ever-effervescent Karen Smith, who was dressed in an off-the-shoulder, glittery, blue-grey floor-length gown.
Smith's songs, On a Wonderful Day Like Today, For Your Love, Baby, The Way You Look Tonight and Memories by the Score, were as lovely as the outfit and as lively as her dancing.
The songstress was followed by an unusual act, 'Ladies on Keys,' consisting of four female keyboardists, Dr Carol Ball, Kamala Hamilton, Joy Brown and Dr Kathy Brown. All played upbeat tunes individually, then, as a group, delighted the audience with a jazz-mento medley comprising well-known pieces like Sly Mongoose and Hol' Im Joe.
Mento music, which was introduced earlier by the Jamaica Big Band, was brought back more traditionally by the Kingston-based Energy Plus Mento Band. Dressed in floral shirts, the band - a lead singer and four instrumentalists playing shakers, rumba box, guitar and banjo, had many listeners swaying in their seats with old favourites like Nobody's Business, Goosey, Linstead Market, Brown Skin Gal and Gungo Soup.
For what the emcee called "the grand finale", the Ba-Boom band played lively Afro-Brazilian and Jamaica-Brazilian music. The latter included jazz with ska, reggae and dancehall flavours.
While the songs were in Portuguese, and though he was not able to translate them into English, they all "had a positive message", the lead singer assured the audience. That he was believed was indicated by the enthusiastic applause the music received.
On Friday, the jazz festival will continue with the Educational Jazz Workshop at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, with Herbie Miller and Whylie. That event runs from 9 a.m. to noon.
On Saturday there will be Dinner Jazz at Glenn's Jazz Club in Tower Isle, St Ann.
The series closes on Sunday with Closing Father's Day, which goes from noon to 6 p.m. in Turtle River Park, Ocho Rios.