Various Artists

Alpha Boys School: Music in Education 1910-2006

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It's a little-known fact that some of the greatest musicians to come out of Jamaica in the past century owe much of their success to a nun. Her name was Sister Mary Ignatius Davies (1921-2003), and for 64 years she served in the Order of the Sisters of Mercy at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, Jamaica. Alpha is a full-time music school that, over the years, has turned out dozens of world-class players, particularly in the area of brass, and all of them learned their craft under the tutelage of avid record collector Sister Ignatius, as she was known. Without her, ska music in particular may not have taken the course it did, as Alpha's alumni included the likes of such future Skatalites members as trombonist Don Drummond, trumpeter Johnnie "Dizzie" Moore, tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, alto saxist Lester Sterling, and trombonist Rico Rodriguez, who studied under Drummond and later became an essential component of the U.K. ska revival group the Specials. Reggae singer Johnny Osbourne and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace were also Alpha grads, and dozens of others successfully contributed to the Jamaican music scene after undergoing a rigorous education at Alpha. Focusing on the students who passed through the school in the mid-20th century, Music in Education is the first collection to survey the music created by Alpha Boys School students. At first, that meant big-band jazz, and the first four tracks collected here, recorded during the 1950s, all fall neatly into that category. But by 1964, a musical upheaval was in the air throughout Jamaica, and the first stirrings of ska are evidenced here in "Eastern Standard Time." Credited to Drummond, it was recorded in 1964 -- the very year the Skatalites formed -- and sets a pace that continues throughout much of the album. Tracks by Rodriguez, Wallace, and Osbourne are also included, but it's often those recordings by names not quite as well known -- Vin Gordon ("The Dirty Dozen"), Headley "Deadly" Bennett ("Hot Coffee") -- that make the greater impact here. The '70s tracks that bring the disc to a close aren't as musically inventive -- by then reggae was in full flower -- but are certainly impressive.

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