To: Dizzy Moore et. al. – Thanks for Everything

“When the music hits … feel the revolution”

Jamaica needs to write a letter, and we need to send it to all the unknown and often unsung musicians, writers, actors, dancers, and researchers who built the bedrock of much of our culture though we know nothing of their work. I thought about this when, in amongst the regular junk and jokes that clog my mailbox, I received from Herbie Miller, an article on trumpeter Dizzy Moore, who is currently battling cancer.

This article reminded me that there are so many Jamaicans who remain relatively unheralded, and even when they receive some recognition, the country has still not been able to adequately find ways to ensure that even a quarter of the story (that we could dare to beg for a half) of the story is told. 

 

So, as I wracked my brain to figure out what to blog about this week (and I have discovered that blogging can be complicated business in which I think they should be offering postgraduate courses) I decided that rather then attempt to fill your brain with complicated nonsense, I would simply allow Herbie some space. The space is needed, because, as Miller points out in his email, the story is unlikely to be carried in the dailies. Of course, the beauty of the blog is that all, sundry and their mother, can grab a key pad and draw a long bench and wax philosophical or simple give some much need space to things and people that matter (and even some who don’t – at least not to the general public). And so this week, I donate this space, as a very small token of thanks, to a man whose name I did not know, but whose influence I have clearly felt with every stomp of my feet, and bop of my head.

 

“After spending five weeks in hospital and undergoing two surgeries, 

musician, trumpeter, ska innovator, and humanist, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore is at 

home convalescing. On his better days, he talks rhapsodically about his life of 

musical achievement and reflects on the colon cancer that he bravely confronts 

while displaying the dignity of a lion. On more challenging days, this national 

cultural treasure, rests and meditates. …

 

Emerging out of a tradition of outstanding Jamaican brass 

instrumentalists, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore is regarded by many followers of

Jamaican music as the most popular trumpeter of all. Certainly he is among the 

most innovative. He is also one of the few older musicians able to reinvent 

himself; remaining vital to the form he helped establish at the same time 

contributing to the currency of succeeding forms. This is so because Dizzy 

Johnny arrived on the music scene at a time when musicianship and Rastafari 

concepts coalesced. The synergy allowed for musical collaborations that signified 

the departure from established musical trends associated with North America 

thus setting the foundation for a truly indigenous popular Jamaican music to 

emerge.  Because of his role in that innovation, Moore is recognized as a 

pioneering figure in ska, the first phase of this development, and the foundation 

on which rock steady was structured and reggae, the islands most recognized 

popular music, created. Popular music is, to date, the island’s most enduring 

cultural product, and Moore has been a participant in all its major developments. 

 

As a 1950’s graduate of the famed Alpha Boys School, Dizzy had as 

exemplifiers of brilliance, world recognized Jamaican jazz trumpeters like Leslie 

Thompson, Oscar Clarke, Leslie “Jiver” Hutchinson, Sonny Gray and Dizzy 

Reece. Amazingly, just as Johnny was able to do, all these graduates of the Alpha 

music system established international reputations. What was also remarkable 

about Dizzy was that in his formative years he remained in Jamaica to create 

music rather than following his seniors seeking fame and fortune abroad…

Musically, Moore occupies a pivotal position among brass players in 

popular Jamaican music. Whether complimenting the efforts of Don Drummond, 

Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, or countless others, and this includes 

providing the break to vocalists, Moore’s contributions have always been solid 

and conceptually complimenting the requirements of each piece of music. At 

times the quality of his music can lift a song above the seemingly simple or one- 

dimensional experience suggested by lesser talent. In his case, Dizzy brought a 

complex deep logical slice of harmonic examination to ska. For example, his 

performance on any number of Don Drummond’s tunes, and on songs like Black 

Sunday, Guns of Navarone, Well Charge and Caravan, by the Skatalites, are 

representations of the high standard of trumpet playing he is capable of and a 

celebration of the quality players his Alma Mater, Alpha, has produced. In the 

context of each performance, Dizzy displays a nuanced harmonic sense, 

rhythmic complexity, and a devotion to melodic tunefulness.

 

His characteristically lean lyricism is from time to time replaced by bravado as his 

solo improvisations were executed to enhance the form and structure of each 

song. An interpretation of the well know spiritual, Nobody Knows, by The 

Wailers, shows just how balanced Johnny navigated the thin line between sacred 

and secular and the ritual of invocation drawn from idiomatic knowledge. 

Johnny’s creative complex is grounded in a thorough knowledge of black 

vernacular traditions–– vocally and musically ––and specific styles of European 

music, including the theoretical element of harmony, from which he built his 

vocabulary and compositional form…

 

Whether you are just a music loving person–– as most Jamaicans are–– a 

so called “musicologist” making the rounds talking music, a radio or nightclub 

DJ, one of the hundreds of individuals making a living in the music industry, a 

producer, a singer or player of an instrument, you are all better off because this 

old convalescing simba in healthier days was part of a musical discovery called 

ska, and that he continued to make music. Let each and every one of us who 

claim this music as our own generously show “Dizzy” Johnny Moore some love. 

Send him greetings on the Sunday afternoon radio shows that play those classic 

ska recordings, send him a get-well card c/o Dr. Clinton Hutton, The Don 

Drummond Foundation, Department of Government, UWI, Mona, Jamaica W.I 

play your own Skatalites recordings and vociferously proclaim –––Dizzy Johnny 

Moore to the world.”

Herbie Miller

Mental Slavery, Batman and Season Rice at the Eve of Independence

“In my view language was the most important vehicle through which that power fascinated and held the soul prisoner. The bullet was the means of the physical subjugation. Language was the means of spiritual subjugation” Ngugi wa Thiong’o

It is the eve of Independence … the 46th for this country, Jamaica – Land we should love and I cannot help but reflect on an article I read in the Jamaica Observer last week. It was, without a doubt the greatest piece of rubbish I had read in the newspapers in a long time – though in fairness to the writer (whose name I’m glad to have forgotten) I haven’t read the newspapers in a long time with the exception of getting my Calvin and Hobbes fix.

So, this gentleman, armed with a thick hide of ignorance proceeds to lambast all those who would propose to teach patois, or Jamaican Creole in schools. The writing is indeed awesome, as piling such nonsense atop other nonsense must be an enviable skill and cannot come accidentally. Clearly having misread V.S Naipaul (who at least backs his venom with sterling literary skill) he remarks that patois was not built upon ancient architecture but was instead crafted by people who were not able to benefit from instruction in their native language nor in the tongue of their masters. It seems then, that all other languages must have fallen from the sky in a manna-esque fashion. This cannot be an argument made in defense of English – a language that has borrowed so heavily it confuses it self!

Furthermore, this writer clearly has no grasp of the full impact of language and the value of beginning linguistic instruction in the mother tongue which provides a good base upon which other languages can be built. Let’s face it, Jamaica needs to be multilingual. English alone cannot be our salvation, and fully allowing our children to understand English begins by valuing their first language.

The article was probably inspired by the announcement that the Bible Association of Jamaica intends to translate The Good Book into patois. I say, kudos to them. Those who object to the Bible being translated into patois are probably still under the illusion that Jesus and Shakespeare spoke the same language. Though it might irk some people, it must be realized the “Verily, Verily I say unto thee…” is indeed a translation. The article further highlights the brilliance of British colonization, that 46 years after Independence we still suffer from such feelings of inferiority, such a mis/understanding of ourselves and the contributions that this country has made to the world.

I caught the revue Season Rice (written by Amba Chevannes and Karl Williams and directed by Michael Daley) recently. Season Rice featured sketches with two of our national heroes – Paul Bogle and Nanny of the Maroons. These sketches, hilarious pieces which lampoon modern Jamaica while attempting to contrast it with the modern situation, come to mind now. In the piece with Paul Bogle (played by Rodney Campbell) the statue attempts to correct the ills of the contemporary Jamaica – offering a swift kick in the butt where necessary only to be shunted off to storage. I had a few problems with the piece on Nanny, as the sketch spoofed her as well, and I thought that the hilarity of a roadside hairdresser attempting to bleach out Nanny’s dark complexion (cause “maroon naaw wear again) would be even more hilarious if Nanny was played stronger and straight.

Nonetheless, the sketches highlight how irrelevant our heroes and their sacrifices have become to contemporary Jamaicans as we attempt to chase the not too mighty (Jamaican at least) dollar and shove it down the constantly hungry throats of the SUVs clogging the streets. Maybe, these heroes can no longer help us. We give token credence and memory to Sam, Norman, Paul, Nanny, Marcus, George, and Alexander, but we pay them no real heed. We cannot seem to see what their sacrifice and work has to do with us.

Maybe then we should look to Batman. The Dark Knight has done so much for Gotham, including sacrificing his own status as hero. And clearly, Jamaica is filled with too many jokers, even more menacing than Heath Ledger’s performance. More than any other superhero, it is Batman whom we may need. Yet, Natalie Barnes was certainly on to something with her Justice League painting which portrayed popular figures in Jamaica as varying Super Friends. Of course, if she is, not even Batman may be able to help us.

Alas, as Jamaica prepares o celebrate its 46th year of Independence with the return of the street parade and grand gala, we might consider that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, one that will not blind us, but will instead give clarity. Maybe, the ignorance spewed forth in the article mentioned above is in the minority. Maybe, the strong sense of self witnessed in our culture is not an illusion or veneer. Maybe, the violence ripping our country apart has nothing to do with self-hate, or poverty, or hopelessness. But then again, I still believe in Sam, Paul, Nanny, George, Alexander, Marcus, Norman and Batman.