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Alpha Boys School - "A Musical Tradition"

by Rich Lowe




South Camp Road
in Kingston, there is a saying - "Labour for learning before you grow old. For learning is better than silver or gold."  These words have been repeated for generations by the nuns and Alpha Band Directors of Alpha Boys School.  This learning involves musical instruction and many students have converted their musical education into gold - some more successfully than others.

Beginning in 1892, Alpha Boys School's musical education has produced highly skilled musicians.  Musicians like Joe Harriott (saxophone), Winston "Sparrow" Martin (Drums, keyboards, trumpet), Johnnie "Dizzy" Moore (trumpet), Cedric "Im" Brooks (Saxophone, flute), and Bobby Ellis (trumpet) all had their skills tapped by the bandleaders and producers of Jamaica in the 1950s and 60s.  Today's youth at Alpha are ready to test their skills.  Today's generation of Alpha is Sykie Campbell who at age 14, recorded with Coxsone Dodd on the Studio One album "Come Dance With Me."  Sykie plays drums, percussion and xylophone and during the day walks the same dirt path to the playing field that 16 year old Don Drummond walked when he attended Alpha in the 1940s.  Before her death in 2003, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies worked with Sykie Campbell.  Sykie recalls his time with her:  "I've been at Alpha a long time.  She'd always say, ‘Lickle man, one day you're gonna be that person that's going to be tall and be a big man.'  She was that type of person that show love every time she see you."  

The abilities of the youth at Alpha have not gone unnoticed over the years.  Like a professional football coach recruits, the bandleaders and producers of Jamaica have recruited at Alpha for musicians.  Sonny Bradshaw recruited Joe Harriott and Wilton Gaynair.  Actually it was Alpha School's Sister Ignatius that suggested Alpha student Joe Harriott  to band leader Sonny Bradshaw.  Coxsone Dodd recruited Cedric Brooks, Bobby Ellis, Vin Gordon, and Headley Bennett.  In a 1991 interview, Coxsone Dodd commented about his first recordings in the late 1950s and his searches for talent, "Rhythm and Blues became obsolete because of Rock and Roll.  Rock and Roll didn't [go] over in Jamaica too strong, so we decided to start doing our own stuff.  First of all we're lookin' for a good voice, delivery, and willingness to learn."  Band leader Eric Dean recruited Rico Rodriguez, Tommy McCook, and the great Don Drummond from Alpha School.  In a 2002 interview, Sister Ignatius commented on the excitement that Don Drummond created:  "Even though he was still in school, he was almost the number one trombonist in the island.  When the band went out on Alpha engagements, a lot of musicians would go and listen to him.  Band leaders used to come ‘round and listen."

Today's Band Director (since 1989) is Winston "Sparrow" Martin - an Alpha graduate himself.  Mr. Martin continues the Alpha tradition by not only giving back in his role as band Director, but by assisting past Alpha Boys professionally.  Mr. Martin comments, "I have a group of past Alpha boys who play at different functions, they do recordings, they travel abroad and go to places like France, Germany, Italy, to perform Jamaican music.  I think it's a good thing to expose them and show them that the world is large and there are so many things you can do that will enhance you to be a better person." 

Youthman Sykie Campbell represents the future of Alpha - talented, capable, and driven. Sykie Campbell recalls his parting with Sister Ignatius:   "I can remember when I went to the chapel.  Before she died, she said:  ‘Lickle man, you have grown into a big man' and I laughed with her.  I remember those words clearly." Decades before, it was Sister Ignatius that introduced Joe Harriott to band leader Sonny Bradshaw.  It may be that Sykie Campbell will receive his recommendation from Band Director Sparrow Martin.  From here it is "upward and onward!"

End Part One...

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