Rhythm Revolution: Cedric “Im” Brooks

Saxophonist Cedric Brooks weaves the rebellious history of Jamaica into his music




Go back to your own formation, in terms of how you came to the music.

I was born in Denham Town, and around me was the influence of Poco and the drums.

What is Pocomania music?

Poco is one of the kinds of religious forms. When the revival thing came, the people got a chance to really express more of their African thing, so it was really utilizing more of the traditional African spirit possession and religious practices. But they started out using the Christian thing because that provided them the time to gather. In utilizing that, they went directly into some of the more traditional practices. Revival was part of that, but the Poco was more directly the African tradition—spirit possession things.

In the early ’60s, after school, you played with several groups, the Vagabonds and Carlos Malcolm, then you played with Granville Williams, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, and Ernest Ranglin.

Yes. In the Granville Williams big band, all the popular musicians were involved. And so I was part of the sax section with Tommy McCook and Roland [Alphonso] and [Herman] Marquis.

So what made you go from working with these bands in, presumably, Kingston to going to work in the tourist hotels in the North Coast?

The main job market for the musicians were the hotels.

Were you playing the same things in the hotels as you were in these bands?

No. We were playing more of the standard jazz, pop jazz, of the time and the regular kind of nightclub fare of that time.

After playing the Playboy Club in St. Mary and the hotel circuit in the Bahamas for a few years, you spent some time studying music in Philadelphia, where you were exposed to the sounds of people like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Pharoah Sanders. Philadelphia in the late ’60s must have been a really formative musical experience for you.

Exactly, it was the hub of the Black musical renaissance, Philadelphia. And all the known artists used to come through there and hang out. I met personally Sonny Rollins and Leon Thomas and Sun Ra. Those people were [the] main influential people at the time. Sonny Rollins was the one who started the whole trend of free jazz, if you like, which Coltrane took to the heights, both in terms of discipline and also in terms of freedom. And at the time, people like Leon Thomas—now, what I’m talking about, the rappers and all them things there—Leon Thomas was like [a] rapper: free sound and everything like that. So, I was lucky to get involved.

December 1969.

That’s when Studio One was in full swing. Did you go straight to work there?

Actually, no. I started a little relationship with Coxson. But for work, I went back to the North Coast. I went to work with Billy Cook at Runaway Bay, ’cause Billy Cook was one of the more progressive musicians. So while I was working with them, it was a steady job, and I would come in [to Kingston] on my days off and go to the studio.

After a while, I just didn’t want to deal with the hotel situation. Part of it was the way in which the hotel system operated, in the kind of colonial style and so on. I was kind of very much against that style and pattern of behavior.

How did your association with trumpeter David Madden start? Was that before Studio One?

David Madden was one of my schoolmates. We were in the band together at Alpha, and we grew up pretty much together.

You two had a few instrumental hits as Im and Dave. And you played sax on Burning Spear’s “Door Peep.” Do you remember some of the hits you played on at that time?

Most of the things that we did, didn’t actually become hits in Jamaica right away. Like, [Im and Dave’s] “Money Maker” was [big] in Jamaica, but, like, [songs by] Burning Spear became hits abroad. And of course, usually when that happens, it comes back.

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