Junior Jennings has blazed a trail in the arena of music in the Cayman Islands over the past 5 decades, touching the lives of countless musicians both as an educator and a professional.
The Caymanian Times spoke exclusively with Mr. Jennings about the honor and what it means to him to be able to play such a pivotal role in the lives of young musicians; in-turn influencing the local industry over the course of generations.
“It’s been a great journey and I have had the privilege of playing with some of the top musicians and band in Jamaican and in Cayman over the years,” said Mr. Jennings, who also talked about his early years in music and how he got started coming to the Cayman Island from Jamaica as a young boy.
“I started out at a tender age. At that time most folks played music including my grandmother and mother,” he noted.
Mr. Jennings explained that he went to basic school to study music and recounts one of his fondest memories from that time being a night when he was called on the play a solo for the first time. He also learned to skill of reading music at this time in his growth; a skill that would serve him well in years to come.
“I was about 12 years old but I guess everyone thought I did a good job and that was really encouraging for me.”
It was not long before Junior - as he is known - was playing for notable up and coming acts like Denis Brown.
“Back then, once people knew you could play, they were coming to find you, he reminisced, adding that everyone from that era could read music, so the standard was high in order to be included in any ensemble.
However not everyone was pleased with the company that the music business sometimes put young people in contact with and it was not long until his mother made the decision to send him to Grand Cayman, where his father was working.
“I came to Cayman in 1966 and started going to Secondary Modern here in Grand Cayman, which at that time was behind the Public Library. My mother didn’t really like the ideal of my in the musical circles and would have preferred for me to be a Doctor or a Lawyers but I still had the feeling to play music,” he said.
As a young boy coming to Grand Cayman at the time, Mr. Jennings joked that his first impression was that it was strange and lots of mosquitoes.
“I wanted to go back,” he laughed, noting that it was not long before the music bug had nipped at him again and he started playing with bands in Cayman at the time such as the Humble and the Meek, which included other prominent members from the Cayman musical fraternity; namely: Edward Solomon; Richard Ebanks and Leonard Bodden.
Though this time, to resolve matters once and for all, his parents sent him to sea, where he would spend the next year, before returning to Grand Cayman.
“I then stared working with a gentleman named Mr. Nembhard, who was a band leader that had notable musicians such as Mr. Wesley Howell in the line-up.
The bands would eventually take a backseat however, as Junior realized that many of his peers - though great musicians - did not read music.
“It was then that I started teaching,” he explained.
In his role as a teacher, Mr, Jennings has been able to affect the music scene in Grand Cayman in a very unique way, churning out some of the Islands most well known young musicians such as Beneil Miller, Stuart Wilson and Benji Turner and man others.
For over forty years he had constantly been a source of inspiration and knowledge for musicians and at the young age of 71, he seems to be just as determined to assist as many people as he can to better themselves at their craft.
In fact, in 2012, Mr. Jennings received special recognition for years of consistent contribution in the field of music education and development in the Cayman Islands; an award sponsored by the Ministry of Education was presented to Junior Jennings and his Jennings School of Music.
He still teaches piano and guitar today and pointed out that he is often surprised at how much ‘faster’ the kids of today are able to learn.
I think it’s the internet; youtube and all of these resources means that many times they can even shoe me new things and we learn from each other.
Mr. Jennings expressed optimism with regard to the talent pool in the Cayman Islands but noted that there were many more venues for live music than there are today in years gone by and lamented that the awesome talent that he sees everyday as a music teacher does not always have an outlet.