11 Days in Jamaica – Day 4

Ocho Rios Jazz Festival at Shaw Park Hotel. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Sunday June 17, 2007

After breakfast I watched another cricket match in the lobby. One of the employees, Oral Murphy, stopped by. We started talking. I told him that I didn’t understand the game. He explained it to me, filling in the parts I hadn’t picked up on yet. It started to make sense. I finally understood the game of cricket!!!

We are kicking off the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival today. Chris and Andy, our drivers, arrived to take us over to the Shaw Park hotel. It was a short drive over so we were pretty well rested.

Not only did we have plenty of time to set up, we had time to check out the venue. Right on the beach! I am – actually we all are – truly blessed to be able to be playing here. For you young people reading this, this is just one example of where music can take you.

Band at Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsAnother band was on stage doing a sound check. By what they were playing, my guess was that they were a Ska band. They were wearing green and gold shirts with “Jamaica” embroidered on them. I guess they got everything dialed in quickly because they weren’t on stage very long.

We took the stage next and got set up fast. The sound check progressed and everything was locking in…except the keyboard. For some reason no sound was coming out of it. It worked fine for the previous band. David, our keyboard player, and one of the stagehands figured it out; just in time because the festival announcer came up a couple of minutes later to start the show.

He welcomed the audience to the festival. When he announced our band, he noted that we were making our 17th appearance at the festival, calling us a “fixture”.

Lee was ready to give us the downbeat; a one, a two, one two three… as luck would have it, seconds after we started a slight breeze picked up and blew charts off of our music stands. Time to break out the clothespins.

Sometime between sound check and downbeat, word got to Lee that our set was being shortened to half an hour to make room for a performance of local school kids. Apparently they had made quite a bit of progress in their musical skills in a short time. So the organizers decided to include them in the festival.

Since our set was now half as long as planned, we had to really pay attention to Lee to see which charts were up next, and who would be playing solos on them. It seemed like as soon as we started, we were playing our closing number “In the Mood.”

Back in the Artist’s room, which is actually one of the hotel’s cottages (I would love to stay here for a couple of days), I remarked to Lee that my horn wasn’t even warmed up because when I opened the spit valve – or as it’s politically correctly called now, the water valve – nothing came out. Most of the other band members wanted to play more, too. It was a long way to travel for a 30-minute set. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining and have no business complaining. I’m sure almost anyone would love to be here, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.

Our set now finished, some band members walked around the hotel grounds, some ate, and some watched the other groups on stage. I did all three. Houston Person was on the bill but we had to leave before he performed. I did get to meet him, though.Playbill from 2007 Ocho Rios Jazz Festival

The kids that came on after us were pretty good for their age. They looked to be junior high age. Their set included a Ray Charles chart, and, of course, a Bob Marley tune.

Kathy Brown at Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsKeyboardist Kathy Brown came up next. She has become a regular at the festival. I recall seeing her perform several times. She has a unique style about her music. She can take a familiar tune, put her own special touch on it, and make it sound like you’re hearing it for the first time. I wish I had written down some of the songs she played.

Chris and Papa Wilson arrived to take us back to the hotel. On the way back we passed “The Ranch” one of the Jerk Centres I’ve been wanting to go back to. Once we got back to the hotel, instead of going directly back to the room, our bass player, Leroy, and I hung out in the lobby with Chris for a bit, just shooting the breeze.

Not long after we got back a group of us headed out into town. Dominic and Dave sped off in search of conch down at the end of the pier. The rest of us kept slowly walking down the street. Lee decided that he wanted some patties and invited us to join him. A patty is a beef-filled pastry. Mother’s, Tastee, and Juicy Patty have locations all over the island where you can get one of these tasty treats. Stop in at one of these places and grab an authentic Jamaican patty. If you do get a patty from one of these joints, here is a word of caution you’ll thank me for later: the beef filling is akin to molten lava. I didn’t know this the first time I got one from Mother’s during my first visit to Jamaica. I spent a couple of days afterwards with strands of skin hanging from the roof of my mouth. The way to eat one is to carefully take a tiny bite from the end, let it sit for a while, then take slightly larger bites as the filling cools to a more reasonable temperature. Beats me why these things need to be that hot inside, but they sure are good. Wash it down with a Red Stripe, Ting (my favorite), or a DG Kola Champagne. Nowadays you can get patties with chicken, beef with cheese, vegetarian, crab, lobster, goat, or just about any other type of filling. You’ll find the more exotic variations in upscale restaurants and hotels. Rest assured they will not be as hot inside as at the local food outlets.

We sat around on the patio of Tastee’s talking for quite some time. While there, one of the locals came by trying to freestyle. His lyrics were often vulgar. He made several of the women in the eatery nervous. It didn’t take long for the security guard to usher him out.

When we left Tastee’s, Lee saw Ernest, one of our driver friends. Lee chatted him up for a bit. Next thing we know we’re piling into his van. He took us to Taj Mahal Plaza where we did some looking around. The Taj Mahal is one of the places where we get a good deal on the world-famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. There are many imitations that locals will try to sell you at their shops. Just make sure it says  JABLUM on the package. Jablum can go for $50 or more per pound in the states. When Lee sets it up right, the band will buy in volume, lowering the price to a fraction of what it sells for back home. Since the Taj is only about a mile, if that, from the hotel, we walked back.

I had been wanting to try out the Ruins at the Falls restaurant since the first time I saw it five years ago. The guest information said that they could set me up with reservations and a ride to and from the restaurant. The lady attending the desk happily made the arrangements. She also told me that she could book the Blue Mountain Bike Tour for me.

At the appointed time, I arrived in the lobby and met my driver Robb. A young guy, he owns his own business, Alton’s Reliable Taxi Service. He says he’s only been operating for a few years. So far he has proven the reliable part.

We arrived at the restaurant and Robb escorted me in. The hostess met us as we passed through the foyer. She escorted me to a table outside, right by the roaring 40-foot waterfall. It was the best seat in the house.

The Ruins at the Falls is known for its waterfall, for which it is named. Water plunges down from an unseen source into a pool. The area is surrounded by many different types of ferns and other flora. Looking up from my table, you see the high canopy of the trees, which is adorned by stars peeking in through the branches. Jamaicans have a saying about Ocho Rios; they call it the place “where Heaven spills into the sea.” Whoever first said that must have been standing right here.

On this trip I allowed myself a couple of indulgences. This meal would be one of them. It was also Father’s Day. An overwhelming menu made it hard to decide. I chose the surf and turf; local steak, local lobster. On the side came vegetables and mashed potatoes with an interesting twist; a pagoda of dry chow mein noodles. (The menu mentioned Chinese influences). A glass of white wine completed the meal.

Since I was the only patron in the restaurant, it didn’t take too long for the meal to arrive. I dug in immediately. The steak was tender, cooked medium rare as requested. I think I detected just a hint of teriyaki flavor. The lobster tasted, well, like lobster. Nothing to detract from the taste. For lack of more descriptive prose, it tasted like good lobster should taste. Which is a good thing. My wine selection was a glass of house wine. It, too, was good; not too sweet, not too dry.

Between bites, I kept thinking about how blessed I am to be here in Jamaica once again, dining at this restaurant. The beauty of this scene was unmatched. I didn’t want it to end. But end it did. I wondered why I had not come here before now.

As I was walking back to the foyer, Robb showed up, as if on cue. We talked all the way back to the hotel. Next time I come here, I’ll have to find Robb and ask him for suggestions of places to go.

My plan was to go back to the room and watch television. That plan was changed when I saw some of the band members sitting at the crowded lobby bar by the elevator. I joined them and some people from England who were also there. Somehow we ended up toasting “to the queen!”

For some reason B-52 popped into my mind. Though the bartender, Romayne, had heard of it, he never made one before. We huddled up and talked about what was in it. He didn’t have the correct ingredients so he improvised. What he came up with was pretty close.

Our new English friend and I were talking about the cocktail when it arrived and before I knew it, my band mates had ordered a round for themselves. That was rapidly followed by a larger round for the people standing behind us and the other English couple on the other side of the bar. Poor Ramayne must have built at least 50 of those B-52s over the course of the night; they were being ordered 10 at a time. It is a relatively time-consuming task to make one of them because they are layered. Near the end of the night, he must gotten tired of the effort required and just started pouring the ingredients together without layering them. I found out the next day that this evening had become known around the band as “B-52 Night” and I was tagged with a nickname for this trip – “The Instigator.”

Karaoke is something I will watch. Getting me up to sing is next to impossible. Our director, Lee, is only the second person to ever get me behind a Karaoke mic. (Here in the hotel, the Karaoke ‘machine’ is actually a live keyboard player named Maurice.) He had picked out Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”. That song has a special meaning for me because it was one of my friend Roberta’s favorite songs. She passed away just before Christmas last year, God rest her soul, so it just felt right to sing it. Maurice started off and before I realized what I had gotten myself into, I was singing in front of about two dozen people. It went surprisingly well. The patrons at the bar were even singing the chorus. I hope no one got that on tape.


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