Tag Archives: steelpan

Artist Profiles: Andy Narell

Andy Narell

Though a native of New York, Andy Narell has spent more than two decades developing a global reputation as a steel pan virtuoso whose multicultural style embraces a range of Afro-Caribbean, Latin jazz and pop traditions. He’s one of only a small handful of steel pan players in the world who are playing jazz, and perhaps the only one among that circle of musicians to commit an entire career — live and in the studio — to creating new music for the steel pan in that context.

Andy Narell was born in 1954 in New York City, New York. His father, Murray Narell, a social worker, met a gentleman from Antigua who needed a job and he knew how to make and play steel drums. Andy’s father had the idea of teaching the neighborhood kids how to play steel drums so he started one of the first steel pan programs in the United States. Muray Narell traveled to Trinidad several times, met with some of the top steel pan performers and makers and wrote notes about this encounters. He also brought back steel pans from Trinidad.

Andy Narell started his own steel band group in Queens. The group played regularly at festivals, weddings, benefit concerts and other events. In 1966, at the age of 12, Narell traveled to Trinidad for the first time. The locals were surprised to find such a great technique in a 12 year old boy from New York.

For many years, Narell worked within the context of jazz and world music. One of the highlights of his career came when he teamed with Paquito D’Rivera and Dave Samuels to form the Caribbean Jazz Project. While Narell was busy playing around the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean, or composing for the Panorama steel band festival in Trinidad, or laying down tracks on albums, films and commercials, a grassroots movement was taking shape in South Africa that would have a dramatic influence on his musical and cultural perspective. The lifting of economic restrictions and the transition to majority rule in South Africa in the early 1990s allowed residents of the major cities and outlying townships easier access to recorded music from around the world. A network of “listening clubs” sprouted throughout the region as low-income South Africans pooled their monies to buy CDs of their favorite artists.

By the late 1990s, Narell had ascended to folk-hero status in a fan club he knew nothing about. Narell had been hearing rumors as early as the mid-1990s, but he didn’t know what to make of them.

When South Africa’s government-sponsored Arts Alive festival invited him to come and play in September 1999, he figured he might fill a couple 200 or 300 seat clubs, maybe play an outdoor gig or two, and then come home. He figured wrong. When Narell and Heads Up president Dave Love landed in South Africa, the entire Andy Narell Jazz Club was at the airport, waving signs and sporting hats and t-shirts bearing his name. Arts Alive staffers told him there could be as many as 20,000 people at his outdoor performance. But even they figured wrong. Backed by some of the tightest, most intuitive jazz players from the Johannesburg scene, Narell took the stage and witnessed what he recalls as “a mass of people like I’d never seen. I’d never played in front of anything like this before in my life. The people from Arts Alive estimated between sixty and eighty thousand. And the people knew all the music. In the middle of songs, I’d hear this roar from the audience, and I’d realize that they were singing along with the music. All I could think of was, wow, we are really not in Kansas anymore. This is Africa, man.”

Andy Narell

Narell came down from the experience just long enough to come home and record Fire in the Engine Room (HUCD 3056), his 2000 studio release on Heads Up. Among the musicians featured on the album was guitarist Louis Mhlanga, whom Narell had met in Johannesburg. He returned to Southern Africa in April 2000 for an extensive concert tour that reunited the band he’d played with seven months earlier and explored many of the lesser-traveled cities and townships off the beaten Johannesburg-Cape Town-Durban tour path frequented by most foreign artists.

Live in South Africa — recorded over a two-night stand at the Blues Room in Johannesburg at the tail end of the tour — chronicles another expansion of Narell’s already multicultural sensibilities. The musicians are veterans of the South African music scene, and they bring a rich musical heritage to the performances. Along with Mhlanga, hailing from Zimbabwe, the lineup includes keyboardist Andile Yenana, from the eastern Capebassist Denny Lalouette, from the island of Mauritiusdrummer Rob Watson, from Bloernfonteinand percussionist Basi Mahlasela, from Soweto.

For every song Narell taught them, he learned his share of their music and culture in return. While the formula of solid material interpreted by high-caliber musicianship may be surefire, Narell insists that much of the album’s energy comes from those moments — in the songs themselves and in the tour in general — when spontaneity and creative energy transcended traditional musical structures and cultural boundaries. “A few gigs into this tour, I realized. This is really clicking. We’ve got a band now. The guys were more comfortable with the music, and I started pushing them to experiment more and take more chances, open the music up and allow it to become more African. And sometimes we’d have people up dancing on stage, and they’d break into their township jive and the whole place would turn into a big party. Those were the greatest moments for me, when it was their culture front and center on stage.”

Live in South Africa is all about the response. “With the South Africans’ openness to jazz and instrumental music, somehow I’ve found a way in the door — or my records did, on their own,” he says. “But there was no way I could have known. Recordings are like a message in a bottle, and you really don’t know where the message is going to land and who’s going to hear it or understand it.

His 2004 album, The Passage, which features Narell, the steelband Calypsociation, and three of the greatest soloists in jazz – Michael Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera and Hugh Masekela. The Passage was recorded and mixed using cutting-edge technology to capture all the excitement of the steelband sound, and was released in two formats: a CD, and a 5.1 surround-sound SACD.

The story of The Passage started in two places at the same time: Paris, France, and Port of Spain, Trinidad. The Parisian plot started when Narell arrived in Paris to discover the existence of Calypsociation.

I came over here to teach in the spring of 2001,” Narell recalls. “I had sent over the chart of ‘Coffee Street,’ and they played part of it for me – and I could hear after two minutes that I wanted to work with this band.”

The fit between Narell and Calypsociation was so tight that the band commissioned him to direct, compose and arrange two ten-minute pieces for the second European Steelband Festival in 2002. That music sounded so sweet, and the experience was so rewarding on all sides, that Narell continued working with Calypsociation – a collaboration that’s documented on the CD.

Narell realized that this recording provided the perfect opportunity to try something revolutionary. “Due to technical issues,” he explains, “steelband recordings tend to be one-dimensional sounding. It’s very hard to capture the power of the bass, the spatial relationships of the sections, and the clarity of all the inner parts. So even digital recordings tend to sound small and tinny compared with the massive power of the real thing. For this recording, we placed the microphones all around the band to capture the excitement of 30 people playing together in a large studio space. Then we overdubbed each of the eight sections of the band on top of the live performance to get a clean stereo pair of each section for presence, balance, and effect sends. This way I’ve got the elements I need to create a mix that puts you right there in front of the band.

That’s just the stereo mix. The 5.1 surround sound SACD will be ground-breaking in more ways than one. Obviously, this is the first steelband record to be released in surround, but Narell has gone a great deal farther. “Since surround sound is such a new format, everybody is experimenting and there are very few established conventions. So rather than take the stereo mix and just add a few things to the back for interest, which is what a lot of surround mixers do, I decided to use the technology to put the listener right into the center of a steelband. It’s a thrilling audio experience.”

To take things to yet another level, Narell invited three jazz masters to sit in – Michael Brecker, Paquito D’Rivera and Hugh Masekela. “A lot of jazz musicians don’t take steelband music seriously,” says Narell. “So it was important to me that the soloists should not only be great players, but that they would approach this music with respect, and come to the session with the anticipation that they were about to play with a tight, swinging big band – which is what Calypsociation is. Mike, Paquito and Hugh exceeded my expectations, which were very high. They add a whole new dimension to the record. They play so beautifully, and the sound of their instruments soloing in front of a steelband is a totally exciting experience for me.”

It’s not every day you get a world class orchestra to rehearse for two years to make a record,” says Narell. “I could have spent a few thousand dollars, and a few days, to record the band, but I decided to make the most of this opportunity. We put hundreds of hours of work into recording and mixing this disc. Frankly, I’m trying to redefine the art of the steelband recording.”

Discography:

Hidden Treasure (Inner City, 1979)
Stickman (Hip Pocket, 1981)
Light in Your Eyes (Hip Pocket, 1983)
Slow Motion (Hip Pocket, 1985)
The Hammer (Windham Hill, 1987)
Little Secrets (Windham Hill, 1989)
Down the Road (Windham Hill, 1992)
The Long Time Band (Windham Hill, 1995)
Behind the Bridge (Inak, 1998)
Fire in the Engine Room (Heads Up, 2000)
Live in South Africa (Heads Up, 2001)
Sakesho (Heads Up, 2002)
The Passage (Heads Up, 2004)
Tatoom (Heads Up, 2007)
University of Calypso (Heads Up, 2009)
Dis 1. 4. Raf (Listen 2 Entertainment Group, 2016)

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Artist Profiles: Tony Guppy

Tony Guppy

Tony Guppy was born and raised in Success Village Laventille P.O.S (Trinidad). The youngest of five brothers, he was exposed to steel drum music at a very young age.

Anthony first started playing the steel drums in his eldest brother’s (Herman Guppy) band; the members consisted of family and friends.

In 1990 he toured Sweden, Germany and Denmark. In 1993 Guppy was 3rd in “pan ramajay” soloist competition held in Trinidad & Tobago. Guppy, who had been abroad performing on a cruise ship for the previous four months, returned home on the night before the competition. On the following day, upon hearing of the contest, he decided to enter. The following year he won the1st place in the “pan ramajay” soloist contest.

In 1995, he recorded on Kitchener’s album, Ah have it Cork. The following years he performed at the Milwaukee-summer festival with the Pandigenous band. He also played in Disneyland and other theme parks in California with the Trinidad & Tobago Show-boat Band.

Guppy is currently based in Japan, performing in places like Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Osaka, Fukuoka, Miyazaki and Okinawa. In 2004 he toured with Japanese singer-songwriter and guitarist, Shoichi Matusnaga.
Guppy has acquired a lot of his musical knowledge from working and performing with some of the top entertainers in Trinidad & Tobago and abroad, Robert Monroe, Rudy Smith, Ralph Davies, Terrance Shaw, Earl Rodney, Sean Thomas,Curtis & Felix Ruiz, Len Boogsie Sharpe, and Joe Cea.

Discography:

Another Side Of Me (2006)

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Artist Profiles: Desperadoes Steel Orchestra

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra in 2009

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra hails from Laventille, Port of Spain, Trinidad and traces its beginnings back to the 1940s. Desperadoes is considered by many to be simply the finest steel orchestra in the world.

Discography:

Carnival In Trinidad (RCA Victor, 1965)
Triple Winners (1966)
Caribbean Holiday (Tropico/RCA, 1966)
Steelband Fiesta (Tropico, 1967)
Calypso Rock (Despers Productions , 1971)
Classics With the Giants (Bestway)
Desperadoes (Charisma, 1981),
The Magical Music Of Despers (Charlie’s, 1991),
The Jammer (1991)
Live at Holder’s, Barbados (1998)
Steel in the Classics (Rituals Music, 1999)

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Steelpan Maestro Cliff Alexis Dies

Cliff Alexis

Steelpan master and educator Cliff Alexis died on January 29, 2019.

Cliff Alexis was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1937.  He started playing steelpan at age 14 in various steel bands in the St. James/Woodbrook area.  From 1951 to 1964, Alexis performed in various steel bands such as Trinidad Triopoli, Stereo-Phonics, Invaders and Hit Paraders.  In 1964, Alexis traveled to the United States as a member of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago. He toured the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Europe and the United States with the ensemble.

After the tour, Alexis moved to the United States in 1965.  In Brooklyn, New York, he arranged for BWIA Sunjets, and performed with his own band called Cliff Alexis Trinidad Troubadours.

Alexis was hired by St. Paul Public School District 625 in the state of Minnesota for 12 years, where he worked as a steelband director and tuner.  On two occasions, Alexis received the prestigious Minneapolis/St. Paul “Outstanding Black Musician” award.

In 1985, he joined the staff of the Northern Illinois University School of Music.  Together with Al O’Connor, he created steelpan studies program where students could major in steelpan as a primary instrument.  His responsibilities included maintaining and upgrading the school’s large inventory of steel pans, arranging, composing and co-directing the NIU Steelband with Liam Teague.

He was the recipient of numerous awards from the Percussive Arts Society, Pan Trinbago, Trinidad and Tobago Folk Arts Institute, Northern Illinois University and others. Additionally, he was inducted into the Sunshine Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.  In 2011, Alexis was featured in the film titled “Hammer and Steel” produced by the University of Akron and Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

In November, 2013, Alexis was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. 

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Steel Pan Pioneer Ellie Mannette Dies at 90

Ellie Mannette with Hillary Clinton on the occasion of his NEA Heritage Award in 1999

Steel pan innovator Ellie Mannette passed away August 29, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was 90 years old.

Shannon Dudley, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington provided the following obituary: “Mannette was arguably the most influential steel pan tuner (builder) in the world because of the quality of his instruments and also his willingness to teach and share.

He made his name in Trinidad, beginning in the 1940s, as the leader and tuner for the Invaders steelband, whose instruments were sometimes referred to as “harps” because of their beautiful sound. Based at the edge of the Woodbrook neighborhood in Port of Spain, Invaders became one of the first steelbands to acquire a middle class following.

Mannette developed relationships with middle class artists, including dancer Beryl McBurnie and her Little Carib theatre. In the competitive and secretive culture of Trinidad steelbands, he was one of the few tuners who was willing to teach his skills to others, which magnified his influence.

In 1961 Mannette was hired to tune steel pans for the U.S. Navy Steelband, and a few years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York. In New York he met social worker Murray Narell and worked with him to build instruments and teach steel pan to young people in community centers. He developed a lifelong relationship with Murray’s son Andy Narell, who became one of the most innovative and recognized steel pan players in the world through his fusions of Caribbean music and jazz.

In the 1970s Mannette began to work with music educator Jimmy Leyden, a pioneer in introducing steelbands into schools in the U.S., and soon became the go-to steel pan tuner for school and university steelbands across the U.S.

In 1992 Mannette began the University Tuning Project in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he took on West Virginia University students as apprentices and expanded his tuning business. In 1999 he received the NEA’s Heritage Award, and was subsequently honored in Trinidad with the Chaconia Silver Medal and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.

I had the opportunity to meet Ellie Mannette a couple of times in the 1980s and 1990s. He was supremely confident of his knowledge and skills and didn’t hesitate to share them. A brazen self-promoter, he also had a youthful enthusiasm for discovery and improvement that was endearing. He will be missed and remembered by steelband enthusiasts all over the world.”

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Artist Profiles: The Renegades

The Renegades

The Renegades is the most famous steel band from Trinidad and Tobago. In 1997 they won their third consecutive “Panorama” (National Championship) and entered in the Steel Drum legend.

The Renegades are from East Port-of-Spain. They receive standing ovations during their performances, mesmerizing audiences with their varied repertoire comprising classical, pop and calypso pieces.

Discography:

Pan Man Vibrations ‎(Mélodie, 2001)

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Steel Pan Melting Pot

Steel Pan Fusion – Melting Pot

Steel Pan Fusion – Melting Pot (Steel Pan Fusion, 2017)

Steel Pan Fusion is an excellent London band led by Trinidadian steel pan maestro and composer Wade Austin. He takes the versatile steelpan to the exciting world of jazz fusion with a group of skilled colleagues that add electronic keyboards, creative drumming, funk bass, soca, world music elements and other tasty ingredients.

The lineup includes Wade Austin and David Vine on steel pan, Sam Blue Agard on drums, Liam Joseph on bass, Phillip Harper on percussion, Andre Louis and Joe McGrail on keyboards, and Adriano Rosetti-Bonell on saxophone and flute.

Two additional pannists appear as guests: Daiel Louis and Delphina James.

Melting Pot delivers superb fusion highlighting the steel pan.

Buy Melting Pot

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Artist Profiles: Len Boogsie Sharpe

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1953 ‘Boogsie’ as he is known began to play the steelpan at the age of three. The beginning of a career that has seen him as a player composer and arranger taking the steel pan to new heights.

Interestingly though ‘Boogsie’ cannot read a note of music his dexterity as a player has brought him acclaim from his peers for his ability to adept his playing to suit any musical genre or style.

This self-taught virtuoso of the steel pan is also an accomplished pianist composer producer and the founder of the Phase II Pan Groove Steel Orchestra one of the notable pan orchestras in Trinidad and Tobago the cradle and Mecca of the Steel Pan.

Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe was the first steel pan player to win the National Panorama finals with his own composition.

Thanks to his prowess as a composer and arranger ‘Boogsie’ has worked with numerous (18) pan orchestras in Trinidad and Tobago as well as pan orchestras in Antigua the U.K. and the U.S.A.

His arrangements and compositions span a variety of musical genres including , Calypso, Classical and Jazz.

His versatility has taken him to bandstands workshops and recording studios with such Jazz greats as: Wynton Marsalis Grover Washinton Jr Art Blakey Randy Weston Gary Burton Ginger Baker Monty Alexander Max Roach and Tony Williams.

In the Caribbean he has also worked with several world-famous Calypso and Soca-Icons to name a few: The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, Baron Duke, Black Stalin and Chalkdust.

As a soloist or as part of a group ‘Boogsie’ has amazed audiences in the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, the U.S.A., and Australia.

His travels have made him an official ‘Ambassador of the Steel Pan’.

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Artist Profiles: Jason Roseman

Jason Roseman

Born on the beautiful twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Jason Roseman founder of Steelpan Instruments Technology is a second generation steelpan tuner. He credits much of his success to his father Joseph Roseman who introduced and nurtured Jason’s deep love and respect for the steelpan instrument.

Jason started performing on steelpans at age eight and has traveled extensively sharing the indigenous art form of his beloved country with the rest of the world. He also has taught steelpans at secondary schools in his native Trinidad and in England.

As a tuner Jason has built steelpan instruments for individuals and educational institutions in the Caribbean, United States and Europe. Living in the United States since 1997 he continues to promote his steelpan art form every opportunity he gets.

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Happy Birthday Captain – Neville Jule

Neville Jules

Happy Birthday “Captain” – Neville Jules
May 21, 2003
By Khalick J. Hewitt

The name Neville Jules is synonymous with discipline and innovation. Under the Captaincy of Jules, Trinidad All Stars Steelband was the most disciplined steelband of the era. Neville Jules grew up in Rose Hill and attended Rosary Boys’ Roman Catholic School as a young boy. He is one of the early pioneers in the steelband movement. It was Neville Jules who gave the steelband world the ‘Grundig’ instrument. The name Grundig was the grand radio of all radios in the 1950s in Trinbago. It had a beautiful and distinctive sound. No other radio sounded like it. It was with that in mind that the name ‘Grundig’ was given to the guitar pan instrument.

One Carnival day you could recognize the Trinidad All Stars by the sound of the ‘Grundig’. I came to know Jules while All Stars was situated in the Garrot (Attic), upstairs Maple Leaf Club (no longer around) on Charlotte Street, near Duke Street. Also, at that time Jules worked on the Wharf where my grandfather worked and knew him. One Friday night, my friend Audra Preddie from Nelson Street took to me to the All Stars panyard to learn to play steelpan under Neville Jules.

Audra took me to the garrot and introduced me to Jules. He said to Jules: “Captain, ah bring my friend to learn to beat pan.” Everyone addressed Jules as Captain. Indeed, he was the Captain in every sense of the word for he ran a tight ship. At that time we used the word ‘beat’ to describe our pan playing. Jules looked at me and smiled. He said: “You want to learn to beat pan. You going to school?” I replied yes and that I attended Rosary school. To which Jules replied: “That is the best school in the world, stand up
behind that tenor pan.” So began my pan career. However, it was short lived because I soon realized that the every night practice took me away from the girls. That was my teenage years and I was in my prime. So I left. But, I never forget the impact Neville Jules made on me.

I never heard Jules raise his voice to any panist. He was soft spoken. He never argued with a panist. He would softly relay his instructions to other panists like Brainsley, Shoreland or Rupert or Broko to tell you what to do. Most important, All Stars never got into gang fights under his leadership even though All Stars was known to have many famous ‘badjohns’ in the band.

All the steelbands respected All Stars’ neutrality. You see, unlike most of the steelbands, All Stars was not a community band. What I mean is that unlike Desperadoes, Renegades, Casablanca, San Juan All Stars or Tokyo which were heavy community steelbands, All Stars served many communities. Players came from George Street, Nelson Street (Upper and Lower) around Piccadilly Street, Jackson Place, Laventille, San Juan, Diego Martin, Belmont and as far as Carenage. A community steelband had its root in the lime on the corner. Usually the ‘limers’ made up most of the core members. And, the lime was usually on the street where the steelband was situated. There was no lime on Charlotte where All Stars was situated. So, most of its panists came from elsewhere.

The 1960s were the glory years of the Jules’ captaincy. It was under Jules that All Stars entered the Panorama with the hit “Patsy”. Previously Jules forbade All Stars to enter the Panorama. He had the foresight to see where Panorama was heading. It was Neville Jules who started the ‘bomb’ tunes to play jouvert morning. A ‘bomb’ is a classical piece that is transcribed to calypso music. But, the status of every steelband was in winning the Panorama competition. Since the Panorama was held annually and the Music Festival was bi-annual, the Panorama won out as the competition that tested the musical mettle of the panist. It was the Panorama that defined the superiority of a steelband. Or so everyone thought. In those days, one of the rituals after carnival was the meeting on every corner from Ash Wednesday till months into the year, to discuss each steelband’s contribution to the Panorama festival. Everyone would analyze and criticize each steelband’s arrangement. One such liming spot was the Piccadilly Street bridge where you could see pockets of limers debating the merits and demerits of the steelbands who played at the Panorama leading to heated arguments about who ‘beat’ good or bad.

Next, Jules started a tradition that continues today. All Stars was the first steelband to serenade the Police Officers by stopping in front of Police Headquarters that was on St. Vincent Street. Jules felt that the officers had protected the masqueraders for the carnival, most not being able to play mas themselves or listen to a steelband and should be given an opportunity to hear steelband music. So, the band started a practice of playing their favorite musical pieces for the police officers to hear. One of my favorite ‘bomb’ tunes is still Anniversary Waltz.

So, on Carnival Tuesday night, maybe an hour before ‘last lap’ at midnight, when all steelbands and masqueraders had to stop playing pan and mas, and carnival ended would end, All Stars would head for St. Vincent Street and stop in front of the police headquarters and play all their carnival tunes but mostly their ‘bombs.’ Mas players would dance with their partners in the band while All Stars played tune after tune and around 11:30 pm the band would start moving toward Queen Street and headed to the garrot where once again they played the’ bomb’ in front of the garrot and ended a joyous festival. But, the discipline continued. Jules had everyone take their pans upstairs to the garrot and packed them away neatly.

Today, Jules is Captain Emeritus of Trinidad All Stars Steelband. Happy Birthday Captain.
Thanks for the Memories.

Khalick J. Hewitt
President & Founder
International Steelpan & Calypso Society

You can E-mail the writer at beldukes15@aol.com

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