Home Arts-Entertainment Things to do RHYTHMIX TO MIX IT UP FOR MARCH JAZZ VESPERS



Feb. 25, 2002 – Sunday's March Jazz Vespers concert will be "A Rhythm Mix" by Rhythmix. That may be a little tough on the tongue to say, but the music will definitely be easy on the ears.
The five-piece Crucian ensemble comprises leader Mario Thomas on electric bass, Alphonso "Scypio" Thomas on saxophone, Otto James on piano, David McKean on drums and Rene Encarnacion on percussion.
Jazz Vespers, presented by the St. Croix Reformed Church in Estate La Reine, is held on the first Sunday evening of the month in the church sanctuary. The program begins at 5:30 p.m. There's no admission charge, but a freewill offering is taken.
Mario Thomas took up the bass at the age of 10 after having his interest in music tweaked by listening to the band led by his dad, "Scypio" Thomas, practicing at their home. In no time at all, young Mario was playing calypso, reggae and whatever else was popular on the radio at the time. He was in the ninth grade when he formed his first group, Together Root.
He went on to study at the Military School of Music in Washington, D.C., and at Howard University, where he toured Africa as a member of the Howard University Jazz Septet. He has gigged with John Fadis, Louie Belson and Wynton Marsalis and was a mainstay in saxman Dave Yarborough's Jazz Band. In 1990, he formed Rhythmix; the band has been active even since and can be heard on Saturday nights at the Buccaneer Hotel.
Alphonso "Scypio" Thomas got his introduction to music playing coronet and trombone at St. Patrick's School in a band that played for parish marches and processions. His first saxophone was a gift from longtime friend Elmo James, who told him to take it home and practice. He did, and was soon jamming on sax around the island.
Later, he formed his first band, the Vibratones. Since then, he has played with Archie Thomas's band, filled in for Rudy Schulterbrandt while he was in New York, and has been a member of Sanora Santa Cruz. Nowadays, he's a mainstay in Rhythmix, the band led by his son Mario. His work also can be heard on his classic recording "Crucian Fiesta."
Otto James was influenced musically early on by his brothers and sisters. He also credits trumpeter Eric Davis as a major early influence. He has fond memories of "keg," the art of making drums from a key and goatskin and recalls the excitement of listening to Latin music on the Puerto Rican radio stations as a youngster.
James studied at the Manhattan School of Music and had performed with some of the top Latin bands in New York, including Orchestra Tropicana. Upon his return home, he joined forces with the crème de la crème of the St. Croix music scene, including Archie Thomas, Mario De Chabert, Mario Moorhead, The Vibratones and Rudy Schulterbrandt's band, where he played timbales.
David Mc Kean's professional career started at age 15. He attended the Army Navy School of Music in Norfolk, Va., and played for two years with the Army band in the state of Washington. He toured the West Coast with Forecast and Suite 7 and was percussionist at LA Golden West Studio doing music tracks for radio and television commercials. He worked with Hank Crawford, was house drummer at Jimmy Smith's club in Los Angeles and was percussion instructor with the Tacoma Symphony's Youth Development Program.
McKean came to St. Croix for the 1994 jazz festival. "I had to bring my drums," he recalls, "so I took the heads off and packed my clothes inside." A few days after his arrival, he was gigging with the St. Thomas All Stars at Pier 69. He has been a member of Rhythmix for seven years and also is a longtime member of the V.I. Art Ensemble.
Rene Encarnacion is known as a conga drummer/percussionist but also is an accomplished bass player. His first instrument was steelpan and his first formal musical studies were at St. Croix's Seventh Day Adventist School. There, "everyone else at school had guitars, so I decided to play bongos," he says.
As leader of Conjunto Topico de Santa Cruz, he kept that band going for 10 years. He was part of Sanora Santa Cruz with Ruben Santana and "Scypio" Thomas. He also worked with the late Tito Puente and with Jovani, regarded as the No. 1 conga player in Latin America. He also can be heard on The Mighty Sparrow's "Saltfish" album.
Jazz Vespers is a family-oriented event held in an alcohol-free, smoke-free environment. In addition to jazz that is invariably exceptional, "the sunsets are truly amazing" at the Reformed Church site, publicity states. Following Sunday's concert, refreshments will be served and attendees will have the opportunity to mingle with the musicians. Young people especially are encouraged to attend.
On tap for Jazz Vespers concerts to come are ensembles featuring trumpeter Marcus Rabb on April 7, drummer Dave McKean on May 5 and trumpeter Stan Joines on June 2.
The church is located on the hill above the Kingshill post office. For more information, call Willard Fields at 719-3672 or Pastor Rod Koopmans at 778-0520, or e-mail to Jazz Vespers.


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