Grammy nominated and legendary pianist Monty Alexander has spent time with the greats of jazz and boxing over his fabulous career. He has toured the world relentlessly with various projects, delighting global audiences drawn to his vibrant personality and soulful message.
The extraordinary musician was honored recently by the Jamaican government with a knighthood order nearly 60 years after he moved to the U.S. from his hometown of Kingston.
Alexander’s love of boxing began when he was 12 years old in Kingston. It was there that his father, also a fan of the sport, took Monty to see Sugar Ray Robinson in an exhibition match near the end of his brilliant career.
In his return to SportsJam with Doug Doyle Monty spoke about how boxers and musicians share a similar rhythm.
“It’s a feeling. I was watching the skilled fighters, how they attack and defend, a certain kind of artistry was involved. If you’re in good shape and know what you’re doing and you’re feeling out the other guy’s rhythm as you go along in boxing, and if you’re on the bandstand playing, and the drummer is playing a certain way then you’ve got to blend with that too, a very similar kind of world.”
During this most recent edition, Monty shared in incredible stories about Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and many others. But Monty remains a boxing fan even though he admits mixed martial arts bouts grab much of the attention of social media these days. While he enjoys a good knockout in the ring, the sophisticated performer, doesn’t liked the rules of MMA fighting.
“It’s a whole different set of dynamics. The true fight fan is not really into that but because of business the boxing magazines have adopted all of that because there’s more interest on social media. Some people want to see somebody pummel another guy like he’s going to kill him and that for me is off my radar.”
But Monty is still impressed with the skills of today’s champions and rising stars. He used to go with Miles Davis and others to Madison Square Garden to see the action up close. Now he’d rather watch the bouts on television in the comfort of his home.
Iconic singer Frank Sinatra was responsible for Monty coming to play in New York. The two also shared a love of boxing.
“I was playing somewhere and Mr. “S” said hey kid you got it we want you to come to New York. So I came to New York. This man who was one of the kings of entertainment. I was in Palm Springs once at the home of Leo Durocher (Hall of Fame baseball player and manager) and who was there? It was a special party and Sinatra was there with his friend Leo and there were a few others from the entertainment world, and Sinatra was at the bar nursing a drink. I walked up to him and said have you been watching and keeping up with boxing and he said ‘oh yeah’. He was a fight fan. In fact, he was a fight manager. He managed a couple of fighters in the 40’s. He was that much into it. He came from the neighborhood in Hoboken and boxing was a part of life.”
Life and music have taken Monty Alexander all over the world. His most recent tour included stops in Austria, Spain and France. The pianist is perennial favorite at Jazz Festivals and venues, including the Montreux Jazz Festival where he has performed and headlined concerts 23 times since 1976. Getting back on the road after COVID has been a special time for Monty.
“When I saw that the job offers had backed off because everyone was scared and didn’t know what was going on with this thing, I just had to adjust to this thing called sit back and twiddle your thumbs and what’s happening?. Next thing you know the phone started ringing and I get the emails that they’re trying to do a festival and we all have to be careful. I started little by little after about a year and a half. I went to Switzerland and I said I guess we have to wear a mask cause we play. What a weird thing to do but we did it and we played gigs like that. It was definitely a new discipline.”
Monty will be performing at the Montclair Jazz Festival on September 10.
When the legendary pianist first joined Sportsjam back in 2014 he wowed listeners with his encyclopedic knowledge of boxing, telling stories of Archie Moore and the Fifth Street Gym. It was WBGO “Daybreak” host Gary Walker that first told the host about Monty’s passion for boxing. That led to an incredible episode that fans of the podcast are still admiring. Monty has always been a big fan of WBGO.
The list of honors for Monty Alexander is vast. Documented on more than 75 recordings and cited as the fifth greatest jazz pianist ever in The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time (Hal Leonard Publishing), Alexander was also bestowed with an honorary doctorate degree (DLitt) from the University of The West Indies in recognition of his accomplishments.