We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Keyboard wonder boy Jackie Mittoo was barely a teen when he helped spearhead Jamaica’s ska revolution. During the mid-’60s, with the Skatalites, his simmering organ and piano anchored the wild flights of Don Drummond’s trombone playing and propelled menacing songs like “Hanging Tree” and “‘Killer Diller”—beach music for the Armageddon. After the group’s breakup, Mittoo worked as musical director at Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One, where he cooked up hundreds of classic bedrock rhythms later plundered by every reggae act from the Wailers to Supercat. In the ’70s, Mittoo moved to Canada and led a quartet in a regular gig at the Toronto airport; he died of cancer in 1990 after a brief stint in a Skatalites reunion tour. Culled from his Studio One career in the ’60s and early ’70s, Tribute‘s nearly three dozen tracks showcase Mittoo’s dazzling range, from the Booker T. stylings of “Memphis Groove” to the brooding dread of “‘Ghetto Organ” to the playful, roller-rink version of Lennon-McCartney’s peace anthem, retitled “Give Sounds a Chance.” For ska junkies, the collection also features a previously untitled Skatalites B-side, known here as “Ska Matic,”as well as a previously unreleased Mittoo vocal performance: His off-key hijacking of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” transforms the lite-rock classic into a sea chantey that’s even more melancholy than the original. Only Brian Wilson could make it sound sadder.