Barbados' First Lady of Jazz

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From the The Nation, Barbados' leading newspaper.
September 7, 2003
by Ricky Jordan

Ernie's Life Celebrated

It was a funeral befitting the rhythm, panache and zest for life which musician, Albert Ernest “Ernie” Small, possessed during his 75 years. 

And yesterday, his service and cremation temporarily changed St Matthias’ Anglican Church and Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens into scenes of musical celebration; as fellow entertainers, relatives and friends said goodbye in song and dance. 

While the sun slowly sank over the manicured lawns of Coral Ridge, the VSOP Jazz Band which included André Woodvine on alto sax, paid tribute to the musical icon with standards like: When The Saints Go Marching In, Strutters’ Ball and Pennies From Heaven – the latter featuring the soulful vocals of CiCi, whom Small often accompanied. 

His longtime friends Rosa Cressey and Desmond Burke also joined the celebration, rising from their pew as if on cue from the late trumpeter/pianist himself, and dancing in the aisles to the up-tempo Dixieland strains. 

Cressey, his companion since 1978, said being with the mercurial Small were “the best 25 years of my life”, and noted that when she first met him, doctors had given him three years to live after being diagnosed with emphysema. 

“I took care of him . . . he was waiting for me but he fell asleep before I got back,” she added, speaking of her return from a brief holiday in England last Sunday. 

Burke, a protegé, said in his eulogy that Small had advised him from the time they first played together to be himself and put his heart and soul into whatever he did. 

“He was fun-loving and could keep you laughing for days. But he was also serious and expected musicians on his bandstand to give their all,” he recalled. 

The service saw a solid turnout of fellow entertainers and showbiz personalities, including guitarist Clifton Glasgow, keyboardist Roger Gittens, trumpeter Cameron “Doc” Quntyne, broadcaster/MC Vic Brewster, and singers Mark Lorde, McDonald Grynner Blenman, Richard Stoute and Desmond Weekes. 

Three of the musicians who paid tribute at the church also poured out their feelings in The Song Is You and Amazing Grace, featuring Mike Sealy (guitar), Ebie Gilkes (keyboard) and Cecil Bascombe (electric bass); while Anderson Mr Impact Ward showed Small’s impact even on young artistes as he gave a touching rendition of The Lord’s Prayer. 

Canon Delisle Nicholls’ address flowed with the light-heartedness of the evening, as his musical anecdotes went as ludicrously far as to compare Benny Goodman’s In The Mood with the Hypa Dawg’s Mash Up And Buy Back! 

If the fun did turn to mourning at any point, it was only briefly, and this was after Burke and Cressey halted their dance to watch the casket being lowered into the crematorium. 

Many in the congregation, some shedding a tear, had never seen such a true celebration of life during the innate solemnity of death; but it was how Ernie might well have wanted it. 

“And it ain’t done yet,” said Oliver Lord Radio Broomes, as “mourners” made their way to the Waterfront Café for one final round of celebration. 
Jordan, Ricky (2003).  Ernie's Life Celebrated.  The Nation, September 7, 2003.

© 2003 The Nation



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