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Steelpan , Calypso and the Calypsonian

 Date: 05.02.05

Uptown Renaissance Restaurant brings a class act to Harlem, New York
The Garvin Blake Quintet
plays to a sell-out crowd

Harlem, New York -

An anxious crowd was seated at the Uptown Renaissance Restaurant on 116th Street in Harlem for what promised to be a special Sunday evening with a difference.  Quite a few had come in from "out of town" because they heard that the Garvin Blake Quintet was making its appearance at the Harlem establishment.  For some, they looked forward to revisiting the musical combination that had so wowed them on Father's Day last year, at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, when the quintet had performed there.  From that show, and joining steel pannist Garvin (on double seconds) at this performance, were Frankie McIntosh on keyboards, Tony Cedras on accordion, and Calvin Jones on bass.  Renowned percussionist Damon Duewhite who is also part of Garvin Blake's regular retinue, rounded out the group.  Others patrons were music lovers with a taste for anything jazz; and came out for an experience which promised to be at least intriguing.

By 7:30 PM, there were just about five seats left, and those were reserved.  Their owners triumphantly claimed them before the second musical selection was over.  Throughout the evening, hopeful patrons and music lovers peering in thorough the glass windows from outside, wandered into the restaurant for the opportunity of a meal and to take in the show, but had to be regretfully turned away because "there was no more room at the inn."

Patrons were treated to a welcome drink, and toward the end of the first set, which lasted one hour, a special Caribbean-styled menu was served, consisting of curried chicken, vegetables and roti, with codfish as a side.  A few of the less adventurous guests opted for traditional menu items.  They were equally pleased - both with their culinary and musical fares for the evening.

From the onset, the audience hung on to the first few notes; those who knew what was in store as Pan Jazz lovers, as well as the others who were having their first experience in the unique music offering.  The Garvin Blake quintet went through both well-known jazz standards, and a few classic jazz-flavored calypso selections as well.  The evening's musical menu included offerings of Black Orpheus (Luis Bonfa); So What (Miles Davis); Footprints (Wayne Shorter); Fancy Sailor (Clive Zanda); Stella By Starlight; Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock); Ah Fraid (Slinger Francisco) and Body and Soul, written by Johnny Green, made famous by Coleman Hawkins.  Pan In Harmony (Aldwyn Roberts) was given a unique treatment, being transformed into a 3/4 time signature.

Al Reid, Sr., owner of the historic and legendary jazz club - the Lenox Lounge located on Lenox Avenue - was in the audience as well.  Reid thought the band's performance was very good, and he made mention of the different things [musically] played by the quintet, which were unusual from what he was accustomed to hearing.  He commented on the unique variety of instruments utilized by the Garvin Blake quintet, and finished off by saying "All in all, it was pretty good, and I liked it."  Al Reid, Sr., had never before heard this particular blend of instruments showcased in a jazz context in Harlem.  Based on what he was seeing at the Uptown Renaissance Restaurant that night (it was a sold-out crowd, with a few patrons even opting to stand, rather than miss out!) - Reid thought the potential for Pan Jazz was quite good.

Ivan Donovan accompanied by his wife Bernadette, came out from New Jersey for the show.  "It's good, it's entertaining.  What makes it really nice is that you don't see a combo with the pan instrument and accordion; there is a jazzy swing with a Caribbean beat."   Yvonne Douglas lives in the city, and said that she prefers not to commute to Brooklyn in search of events to enjoy, and usually surfs the web for cultural/musical activities.  She came upon the article highlighting the upcoming Pan Jazz performance at the Uptown Renaissance.  Douglas said that this was definitely a show she would attend if Pan Jazz was to be a monthly feature at the restaurant.  Another patron who is an avid Pan Jazz enthusiast said that the night's musical experience left him feeling "that he had been to Heaven, and died there."

Mr. Cameron Wiltshire who lives in the Bronx, celebrated his eightieth birthday on Friday, and told When Steel Talks that he had been "partying since Friday night."  The Uptown Renaissance Restaurant was his fourth stop on the party circuit for the weekend.  So when the Garvin Blake quintet struck up Happy Birthday, and the crowd all sang along, Mr. Wiltshire sill did not realize that he was the reason for the impromptu change.  He was therefore pleasantly surprised, and even more so when, after expressing his appreciation to the patrons and band for the recognition, he turned around to find himself presented with a cake and candles to blow out.  His son Carlson, along with the restaurant's management, were of course in on the fun.

Of note and a testimony to the future of New York's upcoming generation of young pan musicians, was the presence of two young steelpan prodigies in the audience.  In attendance was one of Marsicans Steel Orchestra's star front line pannists, Lisa, daughter of Edmund "Bunny" Nurse, who came with Dad in tow.  So too, was Iman Pascall, who is a recognized solo performer in her own right, and winner of multiple awards.  Iman is heading to Florida Memorial University on a musical scholarship in September.  After seeing Garvin Blake perform, Iman gushed that "she was next up on that stage." 

When Uptown Renaissance owner and hostess for the evening, Claudia Calliste, formally introduced both the band, and herself just prior to the second set, she asked the crowd if they would like to have a repeat performance within a month.  Needless to say, there was a resounding chorus of "Yes" from all around the room.  If the sold-out (including the bar area), standing-room only attendance, and that response are anything to go by, then Pan Jazz's first trip uptown to Harlem, was a staggering success.  For those who could not get tickets this time around, they are strongly advised to keep their ears and eyes open for the next Pan Jazz show at the Uptown Renaissance Restaurant.   Contact Claudia or Eleanor at 1 (212) 280-2224.  The Garvin Blake Quintet may be contacted at:  blake350@msn.com.

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp.
2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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Pan, Calypso and the Calypsonian
One cannot have a serious conversation about pan, and the development and history of the pan movement, without talking about the role of the first music of the steelpan - Calypso music, and of course, the Calypsonians.  Over the next few weeks WST will focus on these great griots and troubadours.
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2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved