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Roland Alphonso


One of the most important saxophone players in the history of Jamaican music, Roland Alphonso is best known as a member of pioneering Jamaican Ska band the Skatalites. Born in Cuba to a Jamaican mother, he began playing in jazz bands in Kingston during the 1940s. He quickly became known as an arranger and soloist primarily on tenor saxophone, and he also played alto, baritone and flute. Composing instrumental versions of American rhythm and blues hits during the "blue beat" era of the late '50s, he was among the first to develop the up-tempo Jamaican Ska rhythm. Prolific producers such as Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid relied heavily on Alphonso for session work and arrangements. A musician who could play a smooth, smoky ballad or a stomping scorcher with ease, he had the chops to match seasoned jazz soloists. With the Skatalites, Alphonso helped change the direction of Jamaican music, laying the foundation for reggae as we know it. Known as a mischievous man, he continued to play into his '60s until his death in 1998.

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