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.”
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.
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’.
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.
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