Ellsworth McGranahan Keane was born in St Vincent in 1927. He started playing the trumpet at the age of 6 and was a bandleader by the time he was 14. He also had a great love of literature and words and was nicknamed ‘Shake’ after Shakespeare.
In 1952 Shake moved to the UK. He started reading literature at London University by day and playing in nightclubs in Soho by night, as well as doing session work and recording with legends such as Lord Kitchener, the calypsonian. In 1960 he joined Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott who considered him the partner that he had been waiting for. Together the two musicians continued to expand on Harriott’s free form jazz experiments with harmony and time, perfectly complementing each other’s styles and ideas. They stayed together until 1965.
Now playing the flugelhorn, Keane was in great demand for session work. He moved to mainland Europe and played everywhere, including becoming the featured soloist with Kurt Edelhagen’s radio band.
In 1972 Shake returned to St Vincent as Director of Culture, then became principal of Bishop’s College, Georgetown. In 1979 he wrote a collection of poems, The Volcano Suite and his prize-winning book of poems, One A Week With Water, was published in Cuba. Altogether he produced 5 monographs of poetry between 1950 and 1994.
Keane moved to New York in 1980 and it was not until he went to the Carifesta Festival in Barbados that he started to play music seriously again. In 1989 the Harriott quintet was recreated for a British tour. He was filmed by Anthony Wall for BBC TV’s Arena in the early 1990s and began to travel again, particularly to Norway where he received widespread acclaim. Shake Keane died of cancer on 10 November 1997.
Shake Keane’s last musical testament, Real Keen: Reggae Into Jazz, was first released in the early 1990s. Keane’s biographer, Val Wilmer, said ‘It was an inspired brainwave of Linton Johnson’s to bring Keane and dub-master Dennis Bovell together… By showcasing Keane’s volatile horn in an updated reggae setting, Real Keen: Reggae Into Jazz illustrates the self-nourishing link that exists between the diverse musical forms created within the African diaspora. As Keane lets rip with his highly original phrasing, quirky at times but always eloquent, the notion of jazz being a Caribbean as well as Afro-American music is underlined.’
|Real Keen: Reggae Into Jazz