From his role in Jamaica’s first smash hit, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”, to his eclectic contributions to Jamaican jazz and reggae, 85-year old Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin is the elder statesman of Jamaican music. Challenging him for the position might be 86-year old Edward ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, a graduate of the Alpha Boys School whose training at Alpha launched an amazingly varied work experiences–from performing with Eric Deans Orchestra as a teenager to a Beatles recording session as a young man and now with Rockabilly Punk outfit Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Pop Up Music JA is pleased to partner with some of Jamaica’s most influential musicians on this, its debut release. Click here to purchase.
“Just What It Is” is a throwback to the jazz-ska transition in the 1960s that put Jamaica on course to transcend world music with the arrival of Reggae in the 70s and 80s. While Ranglin and Thornton have since transcended the genres themselves on “Just What It Is” they are joined by more alumni of Alpha Boys School. Leading the rhythm section is another Alpha ‘past boy’ (and current instructor at the school) — Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, a winner of Jamaica’s Musgrave Medal and the longest tenured music instructor at Alpha. Alpha past boy Ervin ‘Alla’ Lloyd (Chalice Band) and Bassie Rennalls complete the quartet accompanying Mr Ranglin.
Pop Up Music Jamaica is a record label devoted to raising funds for youth music education in Kingston, Jamaica. Every project involves music educators as music writers, performers or administrators and music students are the beneficiaries. The proceeds from “Just What It Is” will support music education at the Alpha Institute, formerly Alpha Boys School, which counts Tan Tan and Sparrow as well as keyboardist Alla among their long list of accomplished alumni. Founded in Kingston in 1880, Alpha’s music program graduated a who’s who of jazz, ska, rocksteady and reggae music including soundsystem selectors, vocalists and world-class musicians. Indeed, although “Just What It Is” marks the debut release for the new label, the musicians need no introduction.
The “Just What It Is” project benefited from the generous support of all the musicians who donated their services to make this project possible. Barry O’Hare at World-A-Muzik Studios in Ocho Rios, Robin Hopcraft and Idris Rahman (Soothsayers) in London who were critical to Tan Tan’s participation, and mixing engineer David Kennedy each made a unique contribution evident in the fullness of the sound.
At 85, NPR’s Tiny Desk describes legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin as “a key figure in shaping the sounds of ska — influenced by New Orleans jazz and R&B — in Jamaica in the late 1950s.” In the early 60s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell reached out to Ranglin to help with a new project featuring a Jamaican singer named Millie Small. “My Boy Lollipop” (1964) introduced Jamaican music to the world and Ranglin has never looked back.
Edward ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton (ABS 1940s) – Trumpet – After playing in Roy Shirley’s band with Ernest Ranglin, Tan Tan left Jamaica to tour internationally with the Roy Coulton band before settling in Europe. In Europe, Tan Tan became a sought after band member. Over the years Tan Tan played with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, on The Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life”, with Boney M and Tan Tan was part of the horn section for Aswad. He now plays with Jazz Jamaica, Ska Cubano and, since 2008, the band Kitty, Daisy & Lewis.
Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin (ABS 1949-1959) – Trap Set – Like most Alpha alumni, Sparrow entered the military and played with the military band before joining the recording and touring circuit. Sparrow worked with the Vagabonds and Jamaican All Stars and performed with Sonny Bradshaw and Carlos Malcolm and the Afro Jamaican Rhythms. In 1987, at Sister Ignatius’ request, Sparrow returned to Alpha as tutor, bandmaster, music director, counselor and mentor. Martin received a Bronze Musgrave Medal in 2007 for his contribution for culture and is on the teaching staff at Alpha today.
Ervin ‘Alla’ Lloyd (ABS 1961-1968) – Keyboard – Mr Lloyd joined the Jamaica Regiment Band after leaving Alpha and went on to become a member of the iconic roots reggae band Chalice. Lloyd has toured with Alpha Blondy and Rita Marley and recorded extensively with Chalice, Beres Hammond and JC Lodge.
The Alpha Institute is a vocational school in Kingston, Jamaica. Founded in 1880 and administered by the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic order of nuns, since 1890, Alpha recently transitioned to a day school for 16-22 year old young men in the Kingston area.