Bidding a fond farewell to musical great

To say that Ernest Ranglin is simply the inventor of ska guitar would be inaccurate. First and foremost he is a jazz artist, who as Lee Scratch Perry would famously say, “gave reggae to Bob Marley as a present.”

Any inkling of what Ranglin would play tonight would be answered during the sound check, which by the way, was applauded on more than one occasion. Festivalgoers were treated to Ranglin plugging directly into his amplifier with no effects to speak of, save for a little reverb.

Ranglin was spry and energetic from the get go and held forth masterly at center stage. He was flanked by Courtney Pine, a mountain of a man who is considered to be one of the best sax players in the UK. Pine blew the sax with authority and power, especially during bits of soloing which started about halfway through the set. At one point, he even played the sax simply with his mouth, showing off his circular breathing practices and controlling pitch and timbre without fingers tapping keys.

Rounding out the band was Tony Allen on drums, who was a major contributor to the creation of afrobeat through his time with Fela Kuti. Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Cheikh Lô was also on stage today, tapping out a rhythm on a snare, cow bell, and high hat. Lo helped solidify the beat which may have been slowed because of age. Alex Wilson, a well respected keyboardist in his own right, filled out this excellent ensemble.

So heavy was the jazz influence, no doubt influenced by one of the finest assemblages of artists coming together for Ranglin’s “Farewell Tour” that it only made sense for him to hang back and explore the full musical scope of the band.

It was only later that Ranglin would begin riffing on the reggae rhythms that we all know and love. He’s certainly can attest to being one of the creators of this genre with a career spanning some 60 years playing with everyone from Prince Buster to Jimmy Cliff, the Skatalites, and Bob Marley. But in his heart, he has always held jazz dear and in central position.

But still, as we look back on this retrospective of a giant in the world of music, we will still remember his youthful contributions which caught the attention of Chris Blackwell from Island Records and soon become the legendary label’s first album.

In the studio, Ranglin helped innovate Jamaican music which was struggling to come to grips with the popularity of rhythm and blues. He would work for producer Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and create the shuffling rhythm which is now so well known. It would appear in the song “Shuffling Bug” and forever become the bedrock for Jamaican music for the next half century such as rock steady, reggae, and raga.

At 84, Ranglin is still playing strong and full of riffs and guitar licks. We will definitely miss him, but we will also be happy to know that he’s probably just doing fine back at home playing jazz with his friends.

Text by Sean Scanlan Posted on 2016.7.25 00:06