May 29, 2007

News from Alpha Boys School, Kingston, Jamaica

Personnel from the BBC in England visited our Alpha Boys' School on May 21, 2007. The writer/interviewer identified herself as Cecile. The photographer was Nadika, but the most significant person to visit, (if one can make a judgement) was Amber Harvey.

Amber is the daughter of Joe Harriott, an important and well-known exponent of the Free Jazz form in the UK and in Germany. Joe had entered the Boys' School at Alpha on the 6th July 1938 at the age of 10 years and it was there that he received his education in music. He was taught and nurtured during the years that followed by the Sisters of Mercy. From what we gather from oral accounts, his mother died while he was quite young, but before she died she asked that her daughters be placed with their aunts, but that her sons be entrusted to the 'Catholics' for their upbringing. A younger brother eventually joined him at Alpha which, as you may gather, was and is, a Children's Home.

Joe graduated from the school in 1945 by which time he had mastered his favourite instrment, the alto saxophone. Six years later he moved to the UK where he lived for the rest of his life. In England he became recognized as a "Free Form Innovator" and later was responsible for Jazz fusions which was an art form that wove into a rich new synthesis both Indian music (with sounds of violin, sitar, tambura and tabla) and the instruments of brass and percussion that one associates with Jazz. His work won popular acclaim not only in England but also at European Jazz festivals.

As has been the fate of most musicians throughout history, at the time of his death from cancer, he was a lonely musician, with "empty pockets and a restless energy to burn." At this time in history, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in this innovator whom some have termed the "forgotten genius." As late as 2003, the Jazz Festival in London dedicated much of the evening's programme to the music of Joe Harriott as a tribute to him. In the meantime, at least one book (Alan Robertson's Joe Hariott: Fire in his soul) has been written to tell the story of this remarkable genius whose contribution to the music world had to be told for the benefit of future generations. Joe was no stranger to BBC London;, his recordings have been aired time and again over that station. But the visit that took place last Monday was to acquaint the tourists from UK of the roots, the seminal experiences, that contributed to the development of this great and famous jazz artiste.

For Amber, the visit to the school where her Dad had spent his childhood and teen years, where he developed his expertise with the alto sax, proved a very moving and emotional one. His picture, like that of other great musicians who have graduated from Alpha, graces the gallery of photos that line the walls of the music room which is named in memory of another former outstanding musician and graduate of Alpha, bandmaster Lennie Hibbert. Amber asked questions of the Sisters of Mercy who knew her father. Her memory of him remains somewhat limited since Joe died when she was just 8 years of age and her father was only 44. Amber and her companions from BBC were treated to a short concert staged by the present boys whose renditions of local and classical music was superb and who, like Amber's father, were being given excellent preparation for the future ahead of them.

Messages to Bernadette Little rsm archivist

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