A tribute to Sonny Bradshaw
March 28, 1926 - October 10, 2009
There's a hole in the ocean where once there was sea.
And the sea is as sad
As the sea can be.
There's a hole in the ocean that we cannot fill.
The water seems colder.
The air has a chill.
There's a hole in the ocean that causes us pain.
Dark clouds are circling.
It's beginning to rain.
Our friend and our brother has passed into night.
And the sorrow we feel
Shuts out all of the light.
Our brother, our teacher, our mentor and friend
Has sailed past the edge
Has come to the end.
But the darkness can't last and the rains will subside.
The sun will come out
And the darkness will hide
And we'll cry for our loss as we sing his song.
And we'll smile all the while
For the lists, they are long.
Of the music, the joy, and the love that we share
Will guide and support us
With life's loads we will bear.
And the hole in the ocean? In time it will fill.
And the warmth of our memories
Will lessen the chill.
It will fill with our tears, with our laughter, our pride.
It will fill with the music
We shared at his side.
It will fill with the song of the life of our friend.
And the ripple that;s center
Will never end.
By Basil Walters, Staff Reporter
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A most fitting celebration for the life and work of legendary musician and bandleader, Sonny Bradshaw was held yesterday at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Chapel.
It was an occasion blessed with heavenly showers, musical showers, as well as showers of praises and adoration for the elder statesman of Jamaica's music industry. Members of the fraternity in which he center a lasting legacy, turned out in full force to pay their respect to the master trumpeter, musical innovator, mentor, keyboardist and journalist.
Sonny Bradshaw deserved fully the names “dean of Jamaican music” and the “musician’s musician” by which he was widely known. Although he is associated mainly with the trumpet, Bradshaw also played the piano, clarinet, trombone and saxophone, and was a noted composer, arranger, producer, radio broadcaster and music journalist, creator of commercials and a teacher. He was awarded his country’s Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music.
There are several things about Sonny Bradshaw that stick in the memory: the intensity he projected as he focused on extracting the maximum emotional content from his gleaming trumpet; the dazzling smile he flashed readily at friend, acquaintance, colleague and fan alike; the unceasing energy he devoted to instilling a sense of professionalism in his fellow-musicians and the concomitant respect for their craft he demanded from the people who hired those musicians, whether it be for a formal function, a regular gig in a hotel or club, or even for an informal backyard affair.
Many senior citizens have allowed me into their place and space and have included me into their trove of ‘friends’. From them I have learnt so much. Just being in their company means that I would have an opportunity to LEARN.
Sonny Bradshaw was one such. I lived quite near to he and his wife, Myrna. From the day he discovered that I loved pomegranates I would go home to a message on my phone or hear him directly as he repeated that pithy ditty, with which I started this article: “On your way up, or on your way down, stop and pick up your pomegranate in town."
Legendary Jamaican bandleader and jazz instrumentalist, Sonny Bradshaw, who stamped a lasting footprint on the island's musical landscape, has died. The celebrated trumpeter, who was 83 years old, passed away in a London hospital on Saturday night.
Bradshaw suffered further complications from a stroke he had two months ago and died at 11 p.m. GMT at the Queen's Hospital in Renford. Bradshaw had been struggling with a heart condition for nearly 10 years.
His wife, Myrna Hague, told The Gleaner yesterday during a telephone conversation from her home in London, England, that the news came as a shock to her and the family.
"It's a hard time for us," she said. "I have lost a husband, his children have lost a father, and his friends have lost a confidant and a mentor for whom he was still a great inspiration in their lives."
If you ask Sonny Bradshaw why he is still organising jazz festivals at 8l years of age, he'll probably reply "It's all I know".
Of course, that's an understatement for a man whose curriculum vitae is about the size of the Kingston telephone directory. But it's true in the sense that his dedication to the music goes back nearly sixty years to when he put together his first "big band".
Sonny considers himself lucky to have started to take jazz seriously during the Golden Era of Alpha Boys' School musical graduates whose names today are legend. Playing in clubs, concert halls and cinemas, these jazzmen and others were capable of drawing thousands in the middle of the last century. Some of them earned international recognition when they moved abroad; amongst their number were Joe Harriott, Dizzy Reece, Ernie Ranglin, "Little G" McNair and Monty Alexander.
Impresario Stephen Hill took the plunge in 1956 and persuaded Sarah Vaughn to stop in Jamaica on her way back from a South American tour. She was at the peak of her career, travelled with a trio including Roy Haynes who is still playing drums in his eighties, but was willing to try out a Jamaican orchestra to accompany her. Sonny remembers the experience as if it were yesterday. She arrived at the Globe Theatre on Deanery Road at 7 p.m. and asked the Bradshaw aggregation to run through the music she had selected.
She approved of most numbers, rejected a few, then announced "Be back by curtain time." To which the musicians, still in awe of Miss Vaughn, replied they weren't leaving the building. Stephen Hill's confidence was rewarded - it was the first time that Jamaicans had backed a visiting artiste.
After that Sonny accompanied any number of foreign acts. The singer he remembers most vividly was Johnny Mathis who began a number in the wrong key. He stopped the band, apologised to the audience and began again. When the show ended he handed Sonny a ten- pound note with a "thanks".
December ll, 1956, with my first Jamaican date in tow I took in a Sonny Bradshaw 20-piece big band concert at the original Carib cinema which at the time held around l,200 people. I can't remember if the lady was impressed - her father wasn't when I turned up in a taxi not being able to afford a car at that stage - but I was and I was hooked for good. It was a time when the finest trombone section played on the island: Carlos Malcolm, Don Drummond, Rico Rodrigues and Rupie Anderson.
Sheila Rickards, now in Los Angeles, and Totlyn Jackson, still singing in the UK, along with Buddy Ilgner shared the vocals. From the uptown Glass Bucket Club came Baba Motta and vibraphonist Lennie Hibbert and pianist Aubrey Adams took the night off from the Courtleigh Manor Hotel on Trafalgar Road. Even a future Minister of Finance, Seymour "Foggy" Mullings on piano took to the stage.
With the launching of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in l959, Bradshaw took time out to promote "jazzy" pop music as director of musical programmes. Teenage Dance Party with his quartet in attendance debuted "live" music on television and was enormously popular. He put in many years in the administration of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, l4 of them as president. On his watch he set out to instill discipline in a traditionally unreliable industry and introduced innovations that raised the level of professionalism. Sonny was twice on my theatrical scene, the first time inadvertently.
When hotelier John-Pierre Aubrey heard him playing at Ferry Inn in the mid-sixties he hired him for Jamaica's original all-inclusive, Frenchman's Cove in Port Antonio. It was at dinner one night that Dr. Jimmy Barton and myself first tried out our 8 O'Clock Jamaica Time material while the quartet took a break.
The guests were too busy eating and talking to hear us, but the band apparently had better luck.
It was at Frenchman's Cove that Sonny came upon his lifelong preference for Chivas Regal whisky. Every evening at 4 p.m. with the other members of the group he left Kingston in his old Chevy, returning before midnight but frequently requiring a nap stop in Morant Bay. Having despaired of trying every known soft drink on Sonny to avoid drowsiness, the bartender at the hotel served him a wee Chivas Regal. It worked like a charm. In fact in subsequent years when he had had a medical, his doctor confirmed that it was right for him but, oh, the expense!
Sonny Bradshaw has always been a no-nonsense bandleader. I learnt this when he was hired for my musical "Paradise Street". I watched him one night and noticed that every now and again he would point a finger accusingly at one of the musicians. For what purpose? Any time a wrong note was played the culprit was fined and he knew it.
A trim l49 pounds, Sonny is one fit octogenarian. He credits his wife Myrna Hague for making sure he enjoys his favourite dishes in moderation. He claims to do a little gardening and takes long walks when he is abroad. That's his health, but what about the health of jazz?
Sonny says that after years of virtual neglect jazz has been making a comeback. The Jamaica School of Music has turned out pianists, keyboard players and guitarists but few if any in his discipline, the trumpet. Most front men are self-taught and Sonny himself deserves the credit for bringing along two of the best - Desi Jones and Dean Fraser. His upcoming Jazz Festival 2007 opens at Morgan's Harbour on Sunday, June l0, with an attractive mix of local and foreign artistes and winds up at Shaw Park Beach Hotel on June l7. But what keeps Sonny ticking over? He just can't help himself, he says, after l7 festivals. And we should thank him - and Myrna - for his obsession, and turn out in our numbers for this upcoming l7th edition.
Cecil 'Sonny' Bradshaw is truly a Jamaican treasure. Born in Kingston 'Under The Clock', (the term used to described those born in downtown,Kingston), Sonny was exposed to the piano before age 10 and although he could master it, his pet instrument eventually became the trumpet.
After attending Central Branch All Age School he went on to Kingston Technical High School. His fascination with radio led him and a few of his friends into experimenting with radio communication. Their effort resulted in the group successfully being able to establish radio contact with radio stations in North America and Europe and indeed the whole world. His love for music saw the young Sonny trekking across the city to attend musical events spearheaded by great musicians such as Milton McPherson, Redver Cooke and Eric Deans until he started playing in an organized manner. In 1950 he formed the 'Sonny Bradshaw 7', and became a major force in live music. In 1959 Sonny joined the staff of the newly formed Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and became a founding member of the JBC Orchestra, along with the likes of Carlos Malcolm. Out of the JBC experience was born the famous popular afternoon radio programme 'Teenage Dance Party', founded by Sonny in 1959. He stayed with the programme until 1964 when the infamous JBC strike resulted in Sonny and other colleagues being made redundant.
His next move took him to Jamaica Welfare Services, where he spent quite a number of years making invaluable contribution towards social and cultural development. Sonny championed the cause for musician's welfare through the formation of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, serving as president for 14 years. The Jamaica 'Big Band' and the annual 'Ocho Rios Jazz' series were the brainchild of Sonny.
Perhaps, the greatest asset of Sonny lies within his head and the longer it takes the powers-that-be to recognize and harness his great knowledge for the documentation and preservation of Jamaica's cultural heritage, it is the worst off the nation will be, culturally. Fortunately, Sonny's contribution was recognized when the Order of Distinction (OD)was bestowed on him by the government.