Sonny Bradshaw

Born 28 March 1926, Cecil Valentine Bradshaw (tromper), died 10 October 2009. Sonny Bradshaw, who died at the age of 83, was one Jamaica’s most well-known musicians. He was a polished trumpeter, playing in the style of Dizzy Gilespie. He spent six decades as a bandleader, and was also a journalist, broadcaster, and educator who were dedicated to the promotion of the island’s music. His Big Band was a Jamaican jazz institution that flourished intermittently for three decades. Bradshaw directed musicians who were better-known for their ska and reggae performances to wear band uniforms and accompany Johnnie Ray, Sarah Vaughan and Johnny Mathis. Bradshaw was able to see firsthand the difficult conditions faced by musicians in Jamaica, including racism. For 20 years, he served the Jamaican Federation of Musicians without any pay. He established a four-hour work day and allowed Jamaican artists to enter hotels via the front door. He advocated preference for Jamaican content and commercials on radio. In 1990, he founded the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival, scanning the diaspora for emigrants such as Dizzy Reece, the trumpeter. He was the only child born in Kingston to Edgar and Gladys Bradshaw. His sister was born at 20. He was taught woodwork by Roy Hepburn White, the bandleader. He then studied Popular Mechanics in the library. He also learned how to make a radio and gained access to broadcasts from Cuba, the BBC and jazz. He began on clarinet, but soon switched to trumpet, and he visited Alpha boys’ school with “Pet” Campbell for practice sessions. He wanted to be able to perform to the high standards of the Catholic school, which is known for producing musical talent for over a century. He joined Eric Deans’ big band with his father’s consent and as the guardian of the band’s bassist. He learned to read music and worked at Kingston’s only music shop. He also played in swing bands. Subscribe to Sleeve Notes email for music news, bold reviews, and unexpected extras. Read more Bradshaw was captivated when he heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker playing bebop over the radio. Reece, along with Ernest Ranglin, formed the first modern band on the island, the Beboppers. Later, they became the Sonny Bradshaw Seven. Bradshaw was one among the Jamaica All-Stars. This group consisted of a rotating roster of nightclub musicians. It culminated in 1948’s lineup which featured the vocalist Ben Bowers, the saxophonist Tommy McCook who co-founded Skatalites, the saxophonists Wilton Gaynair, Joe Harriott, and the trumpeter Sonny Grey. Bradshaw, Harriott, and Herman Wilson formed a new jazz band in 1950. He stayed in Jamaica after the departure of Harriott and Wilson for Europe in 1950. After Bundy had left, he replaced Joe Bundy as the Redver Cooke trumpeter. He joined the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in 1959 as musical director. This led to the formation of a big radio band. While touring with the Sonny Bradshaw Seven he was still in demand as a composer and arranger. He also reached Mexico, the US, and Cuba. He met Myrna, a Jamaican singer who was living in London in 1966. She joined him in Kingston in 1980. Hague was a featured singer in the Big Band’s 1985 reformed lineup. They ran the jazz festival together for the past 10 years. Andy Hamilton invited Bradshaw to England in 1989. Hamilton had fled Jamaica 40 years before, and in a rush, failed to pay Bradshaw for some musical arrangements. Restitution was made cheerfully at a Birmingham gig. Hague and Bradshaw return annually to Hamilton’s band as guests; Hague was the musical director for Hamilton’s 10-piece Jamaican Big Band at Hull’s international jazz festival in 1999. Bradshaw received the Order of Merit of Jamaica for his contributions to music. Bradshaw is survived by his wife Myrna and his children Karen and Carey from an earlier marriage. His son and daughter preceded him. From

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