Master plan for Grafton Master Class
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Early in April, a guitar legend was in the house at Grafton Studios, Vineyard Town, St Andrew. Ernie Ranglin was not there to lay tracks for a new song, but to lay out his story for the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts students in a Master Class.
It was arranged by Mikey Bennett, whose lifetime in music spans Home T band and King Jammys Studio in the 1980s through to production on Vegas' current double album release Sweet Jamaica, along with numerous songwriting credits.
It was not the first time that a master of his instrument had passed on playing tips and life lessons in a formal setting at Grafton, bass player Val Douglas doing so about two years ago. This time around, though, there was the formal name - Grafton Master Class - and a sponsor in Wisynco.
Douglas was not alone in passing on his bassline lessons to the Edna Manley bass guitar students - who had expressed an interest in meeting him - as fellow bassist Robbie Shakespeare, keyboard player 'Bubbla' Waugh, guitarist Mikey Chung and drummer Mikey Boo also turned up. Chung was also at the session with Ranglin, as were guitarists Chinna Smith and Edna Manley College teacher Maurice Gordon. Drummer Desi Jones was also present, the combination of musicians inevitably leading to a jam session.
But the lessons went well beyond the jamming. "They spoke about their history. It was valuable not only in techniques, but history," Bennett said. "I think musically it is an opportunity to look at the real greats."
A fundamental issue that Bennett would like to explore in the classes, which he hopes to host more frequently, is why is reggae music what it is today and why it is so infectious. Plus, as Jamaica celebrates 50 years of Independence, Bennett said, "We are losing the foundation fast and I would like to talk to them. A lot of them probably can't teach the youths anything technically, but they were there (in the earlier stages)."
Not an easy road
Bennett said among the valuable lessons Ranglin passed on to the students were how he got interested in music, how hard he had to work and juggle multiple roles in order to pursue music. "As Buju said, it is not an easy road. You need someone who walked it to look back and tell you about it," Bennett said.
He said while the meeting of musical generations is consistently carried out informally at Grafton, he would like to do the classes more regularly and on a formalised basis. Vocal training and management ("managing a reggae act is very different from managing an R&B act") are high on Bennett's list of subjects to do, but in terms of musicians there are already two requests.
"I have had requests from some of the young guitarists who say they would love to do a session with Chinna. They regard him as one of the real big men on the guitar," Bennett said. And connections through the Berklee College of Music in the US would like to do a session with Wailers bass player Aston 'Family Man' Barrett.
Bennett has seen another benefit from the April Grafton Master Class, the pioneer seeing the continuity of his craft first-hand. "Mr Ranglin said him feel him can relax now, the music is in good hands," Bennett said.