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Pan Jazz 2004 at Lincoln Center -
When will we stop rehearsing?


Web Posted - Wed Jun 23, 2004
by Khalick J. Hewitt

The steelpan 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 South Africa.

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 world of instruments 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.

The ADLIB Steel Orchestra opened the concert.  The orchestra consisted of 20 panists, 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 favorite 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 world.  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 ‘Fancy Sailor’ 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 ‘Caravan.’  Here, Mr. Blake was innovative.  He had an accordion player who captured the Arabian Bazaar flavor of the market place.  Indeed, a beautiful rendition.

The 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.

Instead of 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 playbill.

Although 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 sponsorship.

See you at the rendezvous of victory,

Khalick J. Hewitt, President
International Steelband & Calypso Society

June 23, 2004

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Date: 06.23.04



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