Jazz 'n Creole Festival Blossoms
Dominica's Jazz 'n Creole festival held on May 19th 2013 will be remembered as one of my best outdoor musical experiences ever. I have since heard many persons share similar sentiments about this conceptualization which started about four years ago and has now grown to crowds exceeding two thousands, at the picturesque Fort Shirley at the Cabrits. The Jazz 'n Creole Festival was not only loaded with excellent musicianship and vocal quality but delicious cuisine and wonderful natural ambiance amidst the renovated Fort overlooking vessels below in the Caribbean sea, a combination difficult to rival notwithstanding the extra funding others may have at their disposal. But this is only half of the story!
I noted a beaming Collin Piper- Tourism Director as he, I am sure, has recognized the potential of this activity since the attendees have quadrupled from its recent inception. This year's show began bang on time, with the 22-year old uniformed Phaze Five Steel Band. They presented a mixed Creole presentation of Cadence in honor of fallen Cadence icon, Jeff Joseph and infused some other tracks with jazzy overtones on standards such as "Fly me to the moon" and "Killing me softly."
Then St Lucian-born master saxophonist Luther Francois took the stage with a French quartet consisting of a band leader who hails from France, the sensational Eric Ilefouse on keys , an excellent bassist; and drummer extraordinaire Alfred Varasse. Luther blew his heart and soul out and showed why he is rated one of the best Jazz musicians of this region for decades, together with St Lucian counterpart Boo Hincson. The musicianship was spellbinding as they were all given an opportunity to show off their mastery of their instrument to the delight of the audience.
The sun bowed in appreciation of such excellence and took a peek behind the clouds to welcome ambassador and local singing icon Michele Henderson-Delsol. Her four-man group featured some of Dominica's best, in husband/bassist Junior Delsol, leading guitarist Jerry " Metal" Moulon and the youthful Mozart Winston on drums and the talented unassuming Leon St Jean.
Before Michele showed up, gracing the stage with the band was Tiffany Mayne with her jazzy vocals typified by her rendition of Frank Sinatra's Night and Day while Marvin Marie of the 8th Note Band ably accompanied on alto sax. Mel-C, another budding talent, gracefully did her stuff and made way for the more experienced Joy Stoute who ended by singing her own classic Love Zuke number entitled "Fading Away" to much applause.
As the applause faded, another rose in anticipation of what can be described as one of Michele's most powerful performances yet. She exhibited vocal range, power and soulful variety as the US- born saxophonist, who recently accompanied her on tour to St Lucia, caressed the note in harmony.
The sun set and more cameras came out as the mood was set for Bitova Obas, renowned Haitian Guitar maestro. He treated the now huge crowd with a diet of sumptuous rhythmic grooves that was infectious throughout. He creolized and cloaked his Jazz pieces with Compa, and a pot pouri of traditional rhythms of the French Caribbean featuring some popular Love –Zuke renditions. By then, almost everyone was a converted Jazz lover. Stage engineer Cornel Phillip and off stage sound personnel Linden Lestrade and crew marshaled to clarity the crisp sound emanating from the leading and much- improved sound system, Arden Sound System, a most appropriate investment for such esteemed occasions.
MC Val Cuffy and Tourism Director Piper flanked the most anticipated act for the evening; leader of Bob Marley's first backup band, who played with Jazz greats Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Miles Davis; he backed up Nat King Cole, Bobby "Don't worry be happy" McFerrin, Frank Sinatra and the great arranger Quincy Jones; he provided sound tracks for Bill Cosby and Clint Eastwood movies! Simply put Jamaican-born, with 50 years of experience, Monty Alexander is rated by many in the top five…yes, top five jazz piano players of all time.
Those who witnessed this musical spectacle can attest to his brilliance as we were taken on a magical musical journey as Alexander's fingers swiftly and deftly ran, bolted and leaped all over the black and white keys, on two pianos which he alternately played, in a lively mix of Classics, Jazz and Reggae accompanied by his fabulous band.
Many youths were present at this 'family event' and this was good because unknowingly they had attended one of Dominica's great musical concerts. The DFC staff must be complemented for the general management of the event, though next time I would pay some more attention to greater efficiency of the food court for an event which has the potential to rival the WCMF.