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Jazz comes West for Concert in the Rocks

May 21, 2014

Acclaimed jazz pianist Monty Alexander will be headlining the 2014 Concert in the Rocks, which he is dedicating to “the last cowboy singer,” Herb Jeffries. Photo by Crush Boone/courtesy Monty Alexander

Jazz is coming out west early next month for the Lone Pine Film History Museum’s annual Concert in the Rocks fundraiser, featuring world renowned jazz pianist Monty Alexander.
Joining Alexander for the benefit will be Hassan Shakur on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums, with guests Frank Vignola on guitar and singer Allan Harris.
Each June, the scenic Lone Ranger Canyon in the Alabama Hills is transformed into an “under the stars” venue for hosting the annual “Concert in the Rocks.”
The evening begins with a welcoming reception in the museum for annual members. Following the reception, members and other attendees are transported to the Alabama Hills for dinner and the show under the stars and shadow of Mt. Whitney.
“When the entertainment starts, the evening sky is displaying early stars and the setting sun’s shadows are long on the canyon-floor as the discreetly hidden lights create unique and mysterious shadows on the canyon walls,” a press release states.
The host and master of ceremonies for this year’s event will be Larry Maurice, one of Lone Pine’s favorite cowboy poets. Maurice has spent the last 20 years as a cowboy, horse wrangler and packer in the Eastern Sierra and the high deserts of Nevada. Over the last few years, he has had to juggle his need to be on horseback with his busy According to Line Pine Film History Museum Director Robert Sigman, Maurice is a sought after entertainer, not only for his Cowboy Poetry that speaks from the heart of the day-to-day cowboy, but also for his ability to breathe life into the history of the American West.
Sigman said he is very excited to announce that Alexander is headlining this year’s event. Sigman said the Monty Alexander trio, comprised of Shakur, better known as “Wiggans” and Hamilton. Alexander said he has also performed with guests, Vignola and Harris, and is excited to see and perform with them again.
It was through these guest performers that Sigman and Alexander got the idea of dedicating this year’s Concert in the Rocks to famed singing cowboy Herb Jeffries, also known as “The Bronze Buckaroo.”
While Alexander is known world-wide as a jazz performer, Sigman said that he has always had a special place in his heart for old Westerns, and especially singing cowboys like Jeffries, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. “He’s a cowboy fan,” Sigman said. “Mostly he’s just a Western fan. But he can list you a chronological list of singing cowboys.”
Alexander explained Wednesday that Jeffries is possibly the last living cowboy singer, and he is proud to dedicate the show to him. “I happen to have a wide range of musical love,” Alexander said. “I play all kinds of music. But when I was 7 or 8 years old, I would go to the matinées with the cowboy movies. Hearing the kinds of musical scores … all of that really touched me very much. Especially Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.”
To accommodate his audience and honor Jeffries, Alexander said he is planning to put his own, unique twist on some cowboy classics. “Jazz, one interpretation is that it’s not about the song, it’s about how you interpret the song,” he said.
A native of Jamaica, Alexander began playing piano at a young age, 4 or 5 years old. He said he did take some lessons, “but 90 percent of what I play is by ear. I don’t read music, but that didn’t stop me from playing with symphony orchestras,” he said, explaining that he learned the entirety of the famous piece “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. “I wasn’t at school getting As and Bs, I graduated on the street corner, and the people I admire did too,” Alexander said.
Those performers he admires include Frank Sinatra, Ray Brown and Tony Bennett, and he’s played with each of them over his 40-plus-year career.
Despite all that history, Alexander said he is excited to be returning to Lone Pine, and supporting the Film Festival (which he has attended three times, and enjoyed immensely.)
“I always get excited when I’m going to perform,” Alexander said. “We love to go to these kinds of gatherings where they celebrate the Westerns, and I’ve met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in Lone Pine. I would go with the objective of just being a fan,” and being able to perform to help support the film festival is an added bonus.
Alexander also said he is excited about the artists he will be performing with.
“Frank, in my opinion, is a master, one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. Jeff is truly one of jazz’s great drummers. Hassan – they call him Wiggans – has played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra” and much more.
Alexander keeps a busy touring schedule worldwide, playing in jazz clubs, concert halls and at international Jazz Festivals in the U.S. and across continents; from Europe to Asia; in Montreux, Switzerland; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; and Japan, Russia, New Zealand and Australia, to name a few.
To date Alexander has recorded more than 70 albums as a leader, the latest of which, “Harlem Kingston Express Vol. 2” has enjoyed a long stint at the top of the Jazz Charts. As of this writing, it had been bumped from the No. 1 to No. 2 slot.

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