Big heart, small crowd close Ocho Rios Jazz Fest
Complete with a premium stocked bar and a food station serving a full Sunday-style dinner, the organisers of the 29th instalment of the Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz Festival closing day came prepared.
Much of the small audience that gathered at the bandstand at Hope Gardens kept to the fringes of the park under the shade of trees, leaving the front of the stage empty. "It's not really a small audience - it's because it's a big park it looks small. But it's been a whole week of activities, and they've turned out for everything that we did. If it was a one-day event, maybe you would see everybody come out all at once. But because it's a whole week of activities, people come in small numbers. But I think we've had a wonderful week and I'm very excited about it," Dr Myrna Hague told The Gleaner.
The stage opened promptly at 2 p.m. with a performance by Alexandria Hall (real name Alexandria Darcey), granddaughter of Sonny Bradshaw. The self-taught musician (bass, guitar and drums) held the stage by herself, performing a collection of original songs which included Hello Beautiful - a duet with her partner, who joined via recording, before closing with a frantic, quick-tempo, riff-heavy Guitar-song.
When June Lawson took to the stage backed by Desi Jones, the expert vocalist eased through hits like Don't Get Around Much Anymore, A Day In The Life of A Fool, Ain't Misbehaving and Bessa Me Mucho. For many accustomed to Lawson's religious and operatic repertoire, this was the first time they were treated to her jazz set.
'With humility', as she describes it, Marjorie Wylie carried the lead with the Jamaica Big Band that filled the sizeable stage, mostly with members of the brass section. Primarily an instrumental performance, the band was graced for a moment with the vocals of Michael Rutherford, formerly of the Sonny Bradshaw Seven. He opened his performance with a cover of Misty, and a sombre, near-melancholic rendition of I Did It My Way.
As organiser of the event, Dr Hague played the role of MC, but she, too, at the beckoning of the Big Band, joined them on stage giving just a verse and chorus of I'm In The Mood For Love. Vocalist Faith Waltson followed with a crooning, intimate set - accompanied by Othneil Lewis on guitar and keyboard.
Originally meant to be a quartet, the audience was treated to a performance by the newly formed trio - Indigo. Wylie returned to the stage as the keyboardist for the group, joined by Avery Crooks on trombone, and Justine Jones on clarinet.
After demonstrating their chemistry with a few covers, the trio wrapped their set with two original songs - the first a reggae-inflected Brass March and a composition that could carry a scatting vocalist called La Bam Lam Bam Di Bam.
The stage was closed by the well-practised Freddy Locos and the Grodos' Ska Band from Belgium, performing at the jazz festival for the second time. "They play it, they study it, and we have abandoned it. They respect our culture and our music forms. They're not here for the money, but for the culture," Dr Hague-Bradshaw said. Freddy Locos and the Grodos' Band have performed at over 650 shows over the past 15 years.
They were occasionally joined by Russell Gunn, American contemporary trumpeter from Atlanta. While specialising in ska, the group delivered a solid set, which moved from their signature sound into rocksteady and even some selections with heavy-reggae tones, while performing Freedom Sounds by The Skatallites.
For those who missed the festival this time, Dr Hague assures that she will continue her promotion of the event. "As long as I'm around, it's gonna be on! I'm definitely going to make sure that it's on. The people want it; and we have to keep live music alive," she said.