Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
One of its largest audiences, ever, attended the Jazz in the Gardens concert at Jamaica Pegasus hotel last Sunday. Perhaps this was because it was the end-of-year show and people wanted somewhere to go; perhaps it was because they liked the line-up of the performers.
Those who stayed at the concert until the last note faded away shortly before 10 p.m. (it began soon after 6:00 p.m.) would have gone home happier than someone who might have left early. The second half of the show, full of energy and artistry, was much more engaging than the first.
The latter featured singers Jodiann Pantry and Nina Karle and, in a break with tradition, a poet, Tomlin Ellis. Among his poems were 'Write and Chant', a tribute to poets, and 'One Voice', a tribute to Bob Marley.
The three showed themselves to be quite competent performers, but they didn't excite the audience the way the second-half performers did.
During the intermission, the suave-as-ever emcee Michael Anthony Cuffe continued the tradition, set early in the concert series, of recognising the audience members who were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. They were called to the front of the stage and given a Happy Birthday tribute in song by singer-band leader Harold Davis as well as a slice of cake.
Davis (vocals and keyboard) and his band (Conroy Walker on keyboard, Michael Kennedy on bass, Junior 'Bird' Bailey on drums and Warren Harris on saxophone) then moved from the backing-band position they had earlier occupied to centre stage.
With humour and lots of energy, they took us down memory lane with a medley of famous Festival songs.
Listeners sang along and rocked in their seats - though a few were on their feet - to What a Bam Bam, Intensified, Cherry O Baby, Boom Shakalaka, Play De Music, and Give Thanks and Praises, among others. But there were also peaceful moments in the set, as when Davis called several couples who said they were in love unto the stage where he had them dance rent-a-tile fashion - to Unchained Melody.
After the excitement of the festival songs, Davis again calmed everyone down with the slow, romantic Me and Mrs Jones. This brought an end to the invigorating set.
However, things didn't remain calm for long. Next up was one of the most high-energy entertainers in the business, singer and trumpet player Dwight Richards.
Insisting on audience participation, he had many of his fans sweating almost as much as he was by the time he ended his roughly half-hour set.
His tunes (on the trumpet) and songs included Fly Me to the Moon, Autumn Leaves, Carry Go Bring Come and Let It Be.
Halfway through these, he sang a spirited quasi-gospel medley which included If I Had the Wings of a Dove, Man From Galilee, I'm Under the Rock and Amen.
He also performed a delightful duet, Turn the Lights Down Low, with Digicel Rising Star celebrity Nickeishia Barnes. Her appearance was a surprise to the audience, though her name was not.
The emcee described the final performer as "the ever delightful Maria Myrie." That she certainly was - and energetic too.
She kept the mood largely up-tempo as she closed the concert with a set of seven or eight songs. Among them were Hey Mister Melody, The Way you Wear Your Hat, Kiss Me Honey, Honey, I Who Have Nothing and I Feel Like Jumping. Her forceful style would have convinced many that she was, as she claimed, a fan of the great Shirley Bassey.
Executive producer of Jazz in the Gardens, Nancy McLean, assured the grateful audience that the series would continue in 2013, but, she said, she still needed sponsors. This was in reference to the fact that though Jazz in The Gardens continues to be mounted in the gardens of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, the hotel is no longer one of the show's sponsors.
Here, let me introduce For The Reckord, a series devoted to the dance, drama and music (other than reggae) produced for the general public.
My objectives are to both celebrate and critique those art forms in Jamaica. These are not new objectives. I have been writing reviews on those forms, and on movies, for The Gleaner over the past 30 years - though I actually started writing for the company 50 years ago as a reporter/sub-editor for The STAR.
It is my belief that Jamaican dance, drama and music can flourish at a world standard. If our sprinters, netballers, cricketers and footballers can be world class, why not more of our dancers, art musicians and theatre practitioners?
Lovers of those arts may now remind me that we have had internationally acclaimed practitioners of all three forms: Rex Nettleford, Garth Fagan and Clive Thompson in modern dance; Monty Alexander, Willard White and Olive Lewin in music (of three different non-reggae forms); and Yvonne Brewster, Trevor Rhone and Barry Reckord in theatre.
True. But we can do better, much better - especially in drama. The 1970s and '80s were the golden years of theatre in Jamaica; serious theatre predominated. Nowadays, the great majority of the plays on our stages could be classified as buffoonery.
Happily, pound for practitioner pound, our art, music and dance theatre are in much better shape. But we need more of these forms if our audiences are going to get high-quality shows.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the arts are vitally important to a country, and poor quality offerings to the public will result in what Nettleford termed a "coarsening of our sensibilities."
That way lies depravity.