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Roland Alphonso

Posted by The man 
The man
Roland Alphonso
March 07, 2006 01:45AM
The death of tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso on November 20, 1998, within six months of that of fellow Skatalites hornsman Tommy McCook, signalled the end of an era in Jamaican music. Born January 12, 1931 in Havana, Cuba to a Jamaican mother and Cuban father, Roland came to live in Jamaica as an infant, firstly with his mother in St Ann and then from school age in Kingston with his grandmother, where he attended Stony Hill Industrial School and received his first musical instruction.

At the age of 13, Roland persuaded his mother to buy him a saxophone and by the time he was 17 years old had received an offer to play with the Eric Deans Orchestra. For the next decade or so he played in a number of Jamaican big bands, including those of Baba Motta and Sonny Bradshaw, before joining forces with another bandleader Cluett "Skavoovie" Johnson as one of his Blues Blasters and cutting the instrumental 'Four Corners' for Coxsone Dodd. Soon he was recording regularly for Dodd as part of the Studio 1 session group soon to coalesce as the Skatalites.

During his time with the Skatalites, Roland brought his blues based saxophone playing to bear on hundreds of the group's recordings during their brief career, including opening solos on titles like 'Dick Tracy', 'Dr Kildare', 'Christine Keeler' and 'Lee Harvey Oswald'. Following the group's disbandment towards the end of 1965 in the wake of Don Drummond's incarceration and Tommy McCook's defection to Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio, Alphonso remained at Studio 1, first as featured lead with the Soul Brothers and then from 1967 as a member of the Soul Vendors. Although he played on sessions for virtually all the producers from the ska era through to reggae, most of his recordings were for Studio 1, with whom he maintained a steady relationship and also recorded two solo LPs, 'Best Of...' in 1973 and 'King Of Sax' two years later. In 1980, the Jamaican government awarded him the Order of Distinction for his contributions to the island's cultural heritage.

Relocating to New York in the 1980s, he recorded the album 'Roll On' for Bullwackies in 1984 and during that same year reformed the Skatalites to back Prince Buster at the Sunsplash concerts, resulting in the group's comeback set 'Return Of The Big Guns'. Towards the end of the same decade, he gathered the band together once more for touring and recording engagements that, in spite of a stroke that left him paralysed on one side, he nevertheless fulfilled until the end of his life, resulting in 1990s albums from the group such as 'Skavoovie', 'Ska-Mania' and 'Ball Of Fire' released in 1997, the year prior to his death. It seems almost fitting that he was playing onstage on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and had just finished blowing a solo on 'Eastern Standard Time' when he suffered the seizure that led to his death in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles a little over two weeks later.

Penny Reel
Originally published online at Darkerthanblue.com in the year 2000
papa ray
Re: Roland Alphonso
March 07, 2006 02:02AM
Wasn't TMC of parent(s) originally from Cuba also? The relationship musically
between Cuba & JA is often overlooked, and I recall both of them stating how
Cuban musicianship, as far as they were concerned, set the standard in the
Carribean.
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