Jazz Jamaica was the brainchild of bass player Gary Crosby (b. 26 January 1955, London, England), who in England in 1991, inspired by the rhythms of traditional Jamaican music and the largely improvisational nature of jazz, turned his concept into a reality. He enrolled a number of talented young musicians from the jazz and reggae circuits, including himself on double bass, Clifton ‘Bigga’ Morrison (keyboards), Alan Weekes (guitar), Kenrick Rowe (drums), Tony Uter (percussion) and a horn section featuring the legendary Rico Rodriguez (trombone), Tan Tan (trumpet), and Michael ‘Bammi’ Rose (alto saxophone, flute). The band have toured extensively, playing worldwide festivals from 1993 to the present day. In 1993, the Roots and Reminiscence Tour included performances from Crosby’s uncle, Ernest Ranglin, and Marjorie Whylie, who played the piano, provided vocals and followed in the tradition of an African griot as the storyteller. Also featured on the tour was Lord Tanamo who performed in his own distinctive style. Following the tour the band set up workshops specifically for elderly Caribbean expatriates, although these were, in fact, attended by a cosmopolitan audience encompassing all ages and races.
In 1994, Jazz Jamaica played the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, where they proved so successful that the great George Benson had to wait in the wings until the band played an encore. The band also released Skaravan, initially through the Japanese Quattro label. Tracks included ska versions of ‘The Peanut Vendor’, Charlie Parker’s ‘Barbados’, Don Drummond’s ‘Don Cosmic’ and ‘Confucius’, the Skatalites’ ‘Green Island’ and Rodriguez’s ‘Africa’. In the autumn of 1994 they secured a Japanese-based major label contract. The release of The Jamaican Beat found the musicians playing alongside Courtney Pine, Brian Edwards, Cleveland Watkiss and Julie Dexter. The album leant heavily towards jazz while remaining faithful to the initial concept of a ska fusion. In 1995, sponsored by the British Council, they toured Senegal and Nigeria, featuring a performance at the British Embassy in Senegal, and a live jamming session with the Nigerian ensemble Fran And Tunde Kuboye And The Extended Family Band, who supported Jazz Jamaica on their UK tour in October.
Jazz Jamaica’s recording sessions have featured musicians including Dennis Rollins, Orphy Robinson, Soweto Kinch, Denys Baptiste, Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen, and the sublime vocals of lovers rock singer Carroll Thompson and soul diva Juliet Roberts. The 2005 release Motorcity Roots even included a guest appearance from trade union leader Bill Morris, narrating a version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. In addition to his Jazz Jamaica commitments, Crosby also leads a jazz ensemble known as Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop. In 1997, they contributed a competent skazz version of ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ to the Police tribute album.