Pan Jazz 2004 at Lincoln Center -
When will we stop rehearsing?
Web Posted - Wed Jun 23, 2004
by Khalick J. Hewitt
instrument is a marvel to behold. It is the newest of all instruments.
What started as a crude drum during the 1930s evolved into a modern
percussive instrument during the 1950s. Ellie Mannette is responsible
for the instrument as we know it today. The steelpan is a solo
instrument that makes up the steelband orchestra. It was created in
Trinidad by a diverse group of African teenagers. Among those
teenagers Neville Jules, Anthony Williams, Philmore ‘Boots” Davidson and
Ellie Mannette stood supreme. They gave the steelband its voice.
Today the steelpan is played all over the world in places like Africa,
Canada, America, Israel, Russia and The Caribbean. There are also
steelband orchestras in Switzerland, Finland, Germany, France, England and
On June 20,
2004 the steelpan came to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
I felt proud that I was celebrating my father’s day by attending such an
historical event. Our national instrument was taking its place in the
at the great hall known for its featuring of other instruments. At
6:05 pm the Hall lights were dimmed and the announcer Lenny Green from New
York's KISS FM radio came on stage to present the concert. He gave a
brief talk about the steelpan being the only instrument created in the 20th
century but I am afraid that his knowledge of the history of the steelpan
was limited. He could have explained a little more of the steelpan’s
history and mentioned some of its pioneers and the struggles they faced from
the Trinidadian elites to create the instrument.
Steel Orchestra opened the concert. The orchestra consisted of 20
among which were 7 young women and 13 young men. They played a mixture
of Latin and Ballad music. I am sure their managers Jean and Franklin
Mayers were proud of them. But, I was disappointed by their lack of
improvisation. It seems to be a dying skill among panists. Their
renditions of the tune
‘Misty’ reminded me of the Panazz
Steel Orchestra. Their instruments were well tuned and I applaud the
tuner. As ADLIB played I browsed through the playbill to see the names
of the tunes. I discovered that they were not following the list in
the order they were listed on the playbill. A closer look revealed
that two of the tune’s composers were misplaced. The tune ‘Misty’ was
listed as composed by Johnny Mathis and ‘Stardust’ was listed as having been
composed by, get this, ADLIB. I was shocked. Unforgivable.
Misprint, maybe. The composers’ (Errol Garner and Hoagy Carmichael)
estate may not be too happy. But, let me get back to the concert.
ADLIB played well and the audience loved them.
Next came the
panist Andy Narell with his Quintet. Mr. Narell is one of my
panists. I love the way he handles the instrument. He reminds me of
some of the early panists. He played the double seconds. Mr. Narell
was listed to play four or five tunes (his own compositions) but he was
stopped as he got into his second piece. No reason was given but Mr.
Narell tried to explain to the audience that he was ordered off the stage
and had to stop. Later, I was told that he went over his time limit.
It seemed that each artist was given an allotted time to complete their
playing. The audience did not appreciate it and gave Mr. Narell a
standing ovation. He was the only musician who received one throughout
the night. We do have a tradition of fairness, especially when it
comes to others outside the pantribe. How gracious of us.
Then came the
moment for awards. One was given to Max Roach, the famous jazz drummer.
Mr. Roach was unable to be there so his award was accepted by his friend and
protégé. A little note about this. Now, I love Max. He has
done much for the jazz movement and has advocated for the monetary rights of
jazz musicians. But, I failed to see his contribution to the steelband
movement. There are many Trinidadians who have given their sweat and
blood to the development of the instrument. People like Beryl McBurnie,
Lennox Pierre (deceased), Neville Jules, Anthony Williams, Bertie Marshall
and Earl Rodney. The list could go on and on. Maybe the next
time. Let’s get back to the concert.
There was a
brief intermission. Then the Garvin Blake Sextet came on with Maestro
Frankie McIntosh. I loved [how] Mr. Blake played the double seconds.
I loved his choice of tunes. He paid tribute to Kitchener, who wrote
many memorable pieces for the steelband orchestra. And, Sparrow, the
Calypso King of the
As he introduced Sparrow’s calypso piece ‘Ah Fraid’, Mr. Blake explained to
the audience that he could not say the complete name of the tune for fear it
might offend. It’s complete name is
‘Ah Fraid Pussy.’
I thank Mr. Blake for his discretion and respect for the young children in
the audience. He opened his set with
by Clive Alexander. A piece I found to be fitting because of the fancy
sailor’s role in the steelband on Carnival day in Trinidad. He next
rendered his own composition
‘Belle Eau Road Blues.’
As he played I could feel the Belmont breeze and see the trees swaying
around the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The
Sextet concluded with a famous Duke Ellington piece
Here, Mr. Blake was innovative. He had an accordion player who
captured the Arabian Bazaar flavor of the market place. Indeed, a
show’s disappointment was the Liam Teague Quintet. Mr. Teague chose to
play a single soprano (tenor) pan and teamed up with the renowned
saxophonist Arturo Tappin. But, Mr. Tappin overwhelmed Mr. Teague’s
playing because of his loud playing. (And I heard he was asking for
more volume). As a result, it was difficult to hear Mr. Teague who is
an excellent and skillful panist.
Mr. Tappin accompanying Mr. Teague it was the other way around. Due to
time constraints Mr. Teague did not play ‘Mr. Magic’ as was listed in the
concert lasted for three hours the music seemed too short. The show
ended promptly at 9:05 pm. All in all it was a good show even with my
above observations. I believe as we do more of these concerts we will
get it right one day. I don’t how much it costs to put on this type of
concert at Lincoln center but I hope the promoters made a profit. The
Hall was almost sold out. And, I heard that there were some people who
bought tickets but were unable to attend. The show had a few sponsors
and I am glad BWIA, a Trinidad airline, saw it fit to render their
See you at
the rendezvous of victory,
Khalick J. Hewitt, President
International Steelband & Calypso Society
June 23, 2004
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