If you were to look at a satellite map of the Caribbean and imagined the islands were a fossilized skeleton exposed from the ocean over time, the creature's ossified bones would curve as the spine of the Leeward and Windward Islands, but then you would notice one island far out of place Barbados, a vertebrate not in total alignment with other Carib islands.
The Bajans really know how to throw a party, and I was astounded by the jazz knowledge and sophistication of the Barbados people in attendance, with their British cardigans, umbrellas, West Indies cricket hats, and picnic baskets, sitting demurely under the shady casuarinas trees protecting the natural Scotland District highlands amphitheatre behind the old broken down mansion. The dramatic Barbados Scotland District was so named because of the resemblance of the cascading ridges of the Scottish Highlands.
Headliners at the Farley Hill venue in 2002 included: David Sanborn, Rachelle Farrell, James Lovell, Stanley Jordan, and the Pan Masters from Trinidad, playing favorites such as: 'Now That We Found Love', 'Mr. Magic', and the Earth, Wind and Fire created favorite, 'Let's Groove Tonight'. The famous Cuban ensemble, Orquesta Enrique Jorrin, the creator of the cha cha, played two days after a squall rained them out the first night. And as always, Coleridge and Parry School bands opened each day's session of the season at Farley Hill to the delight, I am sure, of their parents in attendance. The young students get the chance to mingle with world-class professionals, inspiring many to new musical heights.
The festival openers on January 14 were flamenco/rumba-styled Jesse Cook, receiving a standing ovation after 'Tempest' and 'Gravity', and Kalabash (both from Canada), seen at the historic 300-year-old Sunbury Plantation House and Museum (US$25). The following night, at the Sherbourne Conference Centre, saw Grammy winner, Dianne Reeves, sing her set, a vintage Sarah Vaughn resemblance with 'Afro Blue', and 'Morning Is Broken', 'Nine', 'Lullaby of Birdland', 'In Your Eyes', 'Misty', and 'Fascinating Rhythm', which she performed at the Olympics. Della Manley, a relative of Jamaican leader Michael Manley, opened the night, showing a lackluster performance at best.
The mid-week festival highlight, of course,was Dionne Warwick, now living in Brazil, seen at the Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex (US$50), the most expensive ticket on the roster, but the house was packed. She sang her standard Bacharach/David hits. but without the big orchestra. One medley included, 'What I Do For Love', and 'Close To You'. She sang her first recording (1962), 'Don't Make Me Over', and then launched into her other classics that we all know by heart: 'Walk On By', 'Anyone Who Had A Heart', 'A House Is Not A Home', 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again', 'Say A Little Prayer', 'Look Of Love', 'What's It All About Alfie?', 'Heartbreaker', 'I'll Never Love This Way Again', 'That's What Friends Are For', and 'What The World Needs Now'. You didn't need a psychic to tell she was adored. She ended her evening with new Bossa Nova lyrics from her new homeland Brazil.
One of my mid-week venue favorites was The Foursquare Plantation Rum Factory and Heritage Park (US$25 each night), with the seating countersunk into the former rum loading bay (now called the Cane Pit Amphitheatre). The factory was resurrected in the 1990s, and it is now producing a velvety and electrifying smooth rum right on the property. During intermission I toured the rummery and was awed by the silos of cooking sugar cane and the original boilers turning the mash into the Caribbean's best known namesake. During the self-guided tour in the spic and span factory, I sampled the various stages of the rum, or you can buy liters right from the store.
What better way to enjoy the evening than with island produced rum cocktails and listening to the best of jazz. Performers at Heritage Park included: Freddie Cole (who returns again for the 2003 jazz festival), Samantha Siva from New York, Sonny Amory, former drummer for Earth, Wind and Fire, who performed a drumming ensemble bar none, and Joseph Diamone, also a New York City artisté that was a self aggrandizing promoter I still get his emails!
Samantha Siva's leaky vocals opened one evening at Heritage, and she must have been slipping in the Arbitron ratings; she was the tonic without the gin, and it was discussed by most patrons that they couldn't wait for her to exit the stage because they were here to see Freddie Cole, the brother to Nat King Cole. Freddie is the gin with no tonic. I am not a big fan of smooth, vocalized, slow jazz. Jazz should be rough around the edges, petulant and pleading, kind of like the blues. That's why I, and everyone else, loved Freddie.
Freddie is someone you can groove with, and I would have loved to meet up with him after hours at the saloon, "Time Out At the Gap," where some performers jammed after their sessions. Unfortunately, Freddie has not released many of his own recordings.
Jazz is the art of invention, and Freddie captured that art like no other performer at the festival. I guess that is why he is asked back this year. Freddie is physically a big man, and his huge fingers exploded like C4, bruising the piano keys, the kinetic energy moving into the audience, rippling under the skin. Freddie's performance was unbroken, uncolored roughness, with the whiff of simplicity and we were kindly conned into his lyrics, urging us not to compare him with his more famous brother. "I am not Nat, I am Fred, I am not my brother. Nat made the money, I am here just to play jazz," he sang, in a sort of delirious, offbeat rant of delightful fantasy, but really a beacon of truth, that blended his majesty with bare knuckle austerity, untainted by the dregs of too much technique, more like sand dune barchans forming and reforming across the landscape of the audience, and each time in a different shape. You could not spell out the form, just the feeling.
Freddie played many of his older brother's sentimental classics, such as 'Fly Me To The Moon', 'LOVE', 'Poinciana', 'Mona Lisa', 'Unforgettable', 'Straighten Up And Fly Right'. and 'Rio de Janeiro Blue', but he received applause and laughs on, 'I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me', his encore closer.
Each person personifies their own meaning from jazz, and the other outstanding performer at the festival played one Sunday afternoon at Farley Hill. Rachelle Farrell brought a new vocal meaning of jazz to me. She was a wonderful movement, a framework of meticulous imagination, her voice drifting like scraps of confetti adroitly thrown to the crowd, even though her set was broken up a couple of times by a small squall shower. She was really the only performer that ignited the audience at the festival, other than Freddie. Usually, the Bajans are too polite for screams and loud ranting. Farrell fended off the cat calls with ease and it was apparent that they could not get enough of Rachelle, singing from her CD, 'Individuality (Can I Be Me?)'. She was just herself on 'Sista', 'Satisfied', and 'Will You Remember Me?'. The party was on! I sat in the local radio shack (a gazebo at the top of the hill) listening to her voice broadcast live across the island, but she was far removed from the commercial radio radar, as she evolved back to the basic roots, red hot like the Barbados firebrand itself the Flamboyant Tree.
South African Jonathon Bler's Rhythm and Blues closed out the festival on the final evening, as a fill-in for the no-show, Bob James and FourPlay. Bler performed with excitement oncuts such as: 'Do You Love Me', 'Song For Elizabeth', 'The Way You Look Tonight', 'Dancing On The Shore', and 'Sing Me A Love Song', accompanied by the sultry saxophonist, Mindy Abair.
I am certainly looking forward to another fine season of wonderful jazz in Barbados in 2003, which is also the 300th anniversary of one of the world's oldest rums, Mount Gay. It should be a party!
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Many thanks to Kris King for additional concert photos. www.kriskingphoto.com