The Skatalites

The Skatalites are a ska band from Jamaica.

Current members

  • Doreen Shaffer – vocals
  • Val Douglas – bass
  • Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson – drums
  • Ken Stewart – keyboards
  • Aurelien Metsch aka Natty Frenchy – guitar
  • Anant Pradhan – saxophone
  • Vin “Don Drummond Junior” Gordon – trombone
  • James Smith – trumpet
  • Larry McDonald – percussion and vocals

A number of musicians, including Doreen Shaffer, Tommy McCook (died 1998), Rolando Alphonso (died 1998), Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett (died 2012), Lloyd Knibb (died 2011), Don Drummond (died 1969), Jah Jerry Haynes (died 2007), Jackie Mittoo (died 1990), and Johnny Moore (died 2008), were among the founding members of the Skatalites. In 1955, Kingston’s recording studios started developing, and these musicians began playing together. As far as recording is concerned, Tommy McCook was the first member of the band to record, though he did not record for commercial release: he played with Don Hitchman’s Group in 1953. It was Archie Lindo who asked Hitchman to perform a few tunes for his pioneer radio station, “ZQI”, using the brand-new equipment they had acquired. Stanley Motta, a pioneer of the sound system, began operating his own studio soon after. He recorded calypso and mento, which he later released on vinyl records under his own label. A record that Rolando Alphonso made with him was probably one of the first recordings he made with him, probably in 1954.

Even though McCook was the first member of the band to record, he did not participate in the recording sessions with the other nine musicians in the band. Upon leaving Jamaica in 1954, he was invited to play at the Zanzibar Club in Nassau, Bahamas, for a jazz gig. In June 1962, he returned to Jamaica and quickly established himself as a regular jazz musician in Kingston.

In searching for jazz players around Kingston, Coxsone Dodd found McCook’s playing and was impressed by what he had to say. In spite of hearing some ska, Tommy McCook initially refrained from Dodd’s offers to record and to lead a studio group. This was because he was a committed jazz musician and was not willing to compromise. With Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond, who played the solos and brass sections for I Cover The Waterfront (Port-O-Jam), Dodd released the album in 1962. As soon as McCook returned to Jamaica in 1963, he recorded Jazz Jamaica From the Workshop (Port-O-Jam/Studio One), on which he played for the first time since his return. There are two tunes by Don Drummond on Jazz Jamaica and one by McCook, called “The Answer”.

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