Sat | Sep 18, 2021

Homage to Rico Rodriquez - PART 2

Published:Friday | September 25, 2015 | 10:49 AMHerbie Miller
Emmanuel ‘Rico’ Rodriquez

Characteristically, Rico's endless musical inquisitiveness and creative imaginings inform his emotional response to standard or classic material. They allow him to transmute genres, bringing to them offbeat cultural expression and attitude that broaden their appeal.

Without abandoning their jazz references, standards such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, performed in duet with Don Drummond, and Duke Ellington's Otto Make that Riff Staccato, retitled The Continental, captures the certainty of Clu J's walking bass, the coherent and fluid alto saxophone of Bobby Gaynair (I suppose), which is jabbed on by Rico's trombone, before it's his turn to let loose a formative couple of choruses utilising the trombone's range and textures to effective satisfaction. On Marge, Rico doesn't solo, but boldly asserts himself as leader of the horn section.

His rendition of another Duke Ellington-associated tune, Satin Doll, is noteworthy for attitude and beat. It is treated to a lilting reggae arrangement over which Rico's extended solo is articulated with the kind of pedigree befitting anything associated with Maestro Ellington, yet without losing the sensibility of the Jamaican cadence. These recordings exemplify cultural reinterpretation and opened the doors to full-blown ska renditions of other international pop, Latin, and jazz standards.

Rico's sound was subtly shaped by Rastafari spirituality and the Nyabinghi drums sessions in which he participated. His tonality and range evoked that background as much as it paid homage to those masters from the Wareika Rasta commune, especially its guru and drum Maestro Count Ossie, with whom he lived, studied, and struggled. Rico once told me that playing with Count and the drums allowed more freedom - no chords to restrict movement.

On performance with Laurel Aitken's Daniel Saw The Stone, The Mellow Larks' Time to Pray, The Mellow Cats' Rock a Man Soul (Rastaman Soul), Moodie's All Star First Gone, and so many other Rastafari-inflected songs, Rico explores the lyrical scope of the instrument in contexts that are as idiomatically appropriate as the Rastafari community and the drums that serve as a stimulus that inspire freedom.

In 1961, Rodriguez boarded a ship to Britain and began playing with bands such as Georgie Fame's Blue Flames and the Undergrounds. He picked up work as a session musician for Emil Shallitt at Melodic and Siggy Jackson on Blue Beat. His extended trombone solo was featured on old friend Prince Buster's Barrister Pardon and on Dandy Livingston's (Sugar and Dandy) 1967 hit Rudy, A Message to You.

Recording his own band, Rico's All Stars and Rico and the Rudies, for among others, Island Records, Trojan Records, and Pama provided additional profile. Those recordings included Blow Your Horn (1969) and Brixton Cat (1969).

In 1975, Chris Blackwell hired Rico as a studio musician, and recordings by Jim Capaldi, Toots and the Maytals, and Burning Spear benefited from the sound of his trombone.

Around that time, Rico also performed with Bob Marley and the Wailers on tour through European. He later joined The Specials and enjoyed immense success after their cover of Rudy, A Message to You was retitled A Message to You Rudy.


However, what became Mr Rodriquez's most celebrated work is his Island Records release, Man From Wareika (1976). It resounded among long-time fans and those reggae progressives who were tuned to instrumentals and jazz. This meticulously produced and engineered recording by Karl Pitterson consists of an engaging set of compositions that are symbolic of the 'East man' tradition. The music radiates a certain cool; each composition an expression of the socio-political insight and congeniality that define the personality of brethren from Wareika Hills during that period: "de Rasta-man dem" from east who would utter "peace and love" as they trod through creation.

Man From Wareika remains Rico's most fully conceived and completely developed concept statement, and being released on the American Blue Note Jazz label, it was pivotal to the increase of his international recognition. It is a work that highlights his Rastafarian spirituality, political consciousness, and his creative curiosity as much as it reflects the mosaic of jazz, especially as a Caribbean aesthetic. It's a session on which Mr Rodriquez as composer gets to construct songs, in form and character, that reflect his Rastafarian philosophy and Pan Africanist ideology (Lumumba, Dial Africa, Africa, Soul of Africa, Rasta, and Midnight in Ethiopia), and he accomplishes this more clearly than many singers who espouse Rasta rhetoric or consider themselves social or political commentators.


Rico released two solo albums during this period, That Man is Forward (1981) and Jama Rico (1982), before he retired to Jamaica around 1983. By 1987, after meeting a group of Swiss musicians, he left for Switzerland to record and tour with the Heartbeat Band before returning to London. He was the subject of Barcelona-based musician and film-maker Jep Jorba's documentary The Legacy - The Rico Rodriguez Story, and Trojan's 2004 release, Trombone Man Anthology 1961-1971, captures his major works between those years.

He inspired and was invited to be a charter member of Gary Crosby's band, Jazz Jamaica, in 1991, in which he was the featured soloist.

Rodriguez also released Roots to the Bone (1995) and Tribute to Don Drummond (1997). He recorded with Linton Kwasi Johnson, the popular dub poet, and was featured on Linton and Dennis Bovel's dub project Peeni Walli.

For more than a decade, this musical legend was associated with Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra working 40 weeks a year in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Asia and making numerous television appearances before his retirement in 2012 with Parkinson's disease.

About three months ago, I received a call from Rico expressing an eager desire to return to Jamaica. "Ah wah come home, ah wah come home, ah wah come home," he pleaded. After talking him out of that idea, I contacted his old brethren, the compassionate and incisive Herman 'Woody' King and Chicago-based fellow musician and educator Douglas Ewart, an old dynamic comrade from the East, and we agreed to host Rico for a one-month stay in Jamaica. By the time we began putting plans in place, I received a call from Monte Blake telling me Milton 'Bop' Moore, a fellow Alpharian and resident in London, called to say Rico was hospitalised.

From his bed, Rico and I spoke a few times before I was informed he would be unable to travel in the near future. Less than a week later, Rico, in a London hospital, with friends and family by his side, died at age 80. All left for me to say at this point is, farewell brethren.

n Herbie Miller is the Director/Curator of the Jamaica Music Museum at the Institute of