Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | October 13, 2009
Home : Entertainment
Bradshaw's fight to keep jazz alive
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer


WHILE he was never the prolific session musician as some of his more famous contemporaries, music historian Herbie Miller says bandleader/trumpeter Sonny Bradshaw was an unapologetic purist who kept live music on the map in Jamaica.

Bradshaw's wife, Myrna Hague, said he died on Saturday evening in London, England, two months after suffering a massive stroke there. He was 83 years old.

Miller, a curator/director at the Jamaica Music Museum in Kingston, said Bradshaw honoured the music of his peers through his bands and the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival he started in 1991.

"Because he was involved in the jazz idiom, he tried to keep jazz alive in the traditional sense. He ran into problems because of that," Miller said.


Bradshaw, like saxophonist Tommy McCook and trumpeter Don Drummond, was strongly influenced by the big band swing/jazz craze that swept the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.

While McCook and Drummond later played major roles in shaping the jazz-based ska, Bradshaw maintained his ties to the music in its purest form. He formed his Big Band in the early 1950s, but did embrace popular music with the Sonny Bradshaw Seven, where many musicians like drummer Desi Jones, saxophonist Dean Fraser and keyboardist Mallory Williams, got their start.

In a 1996 interview with the Reggae Report magazine, Fraser credited the Sonny Bradshaw Seven for his eclectic tastes.

"When I left that band, I could play any type of music," he said.

That appreciation, apparently, was never shared by sponsors who Bradshaw failed to attract for his annual festival which featured straight-ahead jazz musicians like Jimmy Smits and Herbie Mann.

He organised the festival for the last time in June. Miller says Bradshaw felt snubbed by media and the corporate sector.

"He was frustrated at the lack of respect for jazz, especially when he looked at the kind of money festivals in Jamaica masquerading as jazz, were getting," Miller said.

In January, when organisers of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival announced it was struggling financially, the Jamaica Tourist Board pumped US$500,000 into the five-day event. Bradshaw criticised the gesture, saying it was done while other shows such as his, got little Government support.

Bradshaw wore several other hats. He was a president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians for many years and wrote a weekly column, Musicman, in THE STAR, The Gleaner's afternoon tabloid.

He was awarded the Order of Distinction, Jamaica's fourth highest civic honour, for his contribution to the country's music.

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