Telluride Jazz Celebration: Monty Alexander

Telluride Jazz Celebration: Monty Alexander

Jazz virtuoso and pianist Monty Alexander is acclaimed all over the globe for his seemingly extraterrestrial technique and sublime, heartfelt swing. Now in the 50th year of his performing career, Monty draws great pleasure from mixing, twisting and bending different genres into an accessible musical package – and then stamping his own unique identity onto whatever style he chooses.

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A consummate entertainer with a genuine international pedigree, Monty never forgets his roots, fusing the creative essence of his native land of Jamaica with the jazz legacy of past collaborators such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Frank Sinatra. 

And while we are on the subject of  the iconic Mr. Blue Eyes, Monty likes to tell the story of how, as a 19-year-old pianist fresh out of Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1960s, he ran into Frank Sinatra in Miami and how the relationship continued with many boozy all-night jams after Sinatra’s friend Jilly Rizzo set him up as house pianist at his New York club. Now 70, Monty splits his work between vivacious jazz-reggae and the kind of canny trio-jazz that suggests a reincarnated Sinatra is about to set a glass of bourbon on the piano and start crooning to swooning crowds all over again.

Other legendary collaborations have included Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Clark Terry, Quincy Jones, Ernest Ranglin, Barbara Hendricks, Bill Cosby, Bobby McFerrin, Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare, among others.

After his first visit 22 years ago, Monty Alexander returns as featured artist to the 38th annual Telluride Jazz Celebration, which takes place Friday, August 1 – Sunday, August 3. Monty Alexander & Harlem-Kingston Express perform Friday, August 1, 5:40 – 7 p.m. on the Main Stage in Town Park.


Born on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Monty took his first piano lessons at age six, although he is largely self-taught. As a teenager, he witnessed concerts by Louis Armstrong and Nat “King” Cole at Kingston’s Carib Theater, artists who had a profound impact on the young man’s aspirations.

In the late 1950s, Monty formed “Monty and the Cyclones” and recorded on sessions with the musicians who would catapult Jamaican music to international recognition such as The Skatalites, Bob Marley’s first back-up band.

Monty and his family moved to the United States at the end of 1961. Less than two years later, while playing in Las Vegas with Art Mooney’s orchestra, he caught Rizzo’s eye. At the club, the young pianist met Modern Jazz Quartet vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who hired him and eventually introduced him to former Charlie Parker collaborator, the legendary bassist Ray Brown. Monty recorded and performed with the two jazz giants on many occasions.

In the mid-1960s, jazz’s greatest luminaries welcomed Monty into their musical fraternity. Among those earliest enthusiasts: Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Miles Davis.

Monty Alexander’s collaborations span multiple genres, styles, and generations. His varied projects have included assisting Natalie Cole in her tribute album to her father, Nat “King” Cole in 1991. (The resulting album, Unforgettable, won seven Grammy awards.) Monty performed George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” under the direction of Bobby McFerrin at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and he recorded the piano track for the film score of Clint Eastwood’s “Bird,” a movie about the life of jazz titan Charlie Parker.

In August 2000, the Jamaican government awarded Monty the title of “Commander in the Order of Distinction” for outstanding services to Jamaica as a worldwide music ambassador.

In Hal Leonard’s 2005 book, “The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time, “ Monty Alexander was listed among the top five Jazz pianists of all time. And to this day, Monty maintains a rigorous touring schedule worldwide, playing in jazz clubs, concert halls and playing at international Jazz Festivals in the USA and across continents; from Europe to Asia; in Montreux, Switzerland; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; and Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, etc.

To buy tickets now for Telluride Jazz, go here.

To learn more about Monty Alexander, click the “play” button and listen to our chat.

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