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Scipio “Sarge” Sargeant

An Exclusive Interview with When Steel Talks

Scipio Sargeant

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A When Steel Talks Exclusive

 

Scipio “Sarge” Sargeant at Basement Recordings’ studios in an exclusive 2003 WST interview. “Sarge” has been a significant figure on the music scene, co-arranging for Despers USA during their record 6 consecutive year-wins at the New York Panorama.

Scipio “Skip” or “Sarge” Sargeant was born in Trinidad.  At an early age he distinguished himself as one of the top musicians in his home country.  As co-arranger for Despers USA, Sargeant won a record five of the orchestra’s six consecutive New York Panorama Championships from 1993–1998. 

Hear Sarge’s account of the steelband movement and his viewpoint of the genius of the legendary Rudolph Charles, during his chat with When Steel Talks.

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The Late SCIPIO “Skip” Sargeant Remembered

Scipio “Skip” Sargeant, a brilliant Trinidad-born guitarist and arranger, who put his skills to outstanding use in several genres of conventional music as well as in the steelband milieu, died last Monday in Brooklyn (April 20, 2009) New York after battling serious illness for several months. He was 64.

Respected pianist and arranger Frankie McIntosh said of his longtime musical sidekick: “Sarge was not only an enormously talented musician who made gigs a fun experience, but we grew to be great personal friends as well. His loss creates a huge void.”

Jazz bassist Stanley Banks said: “He was a gentleman and a monster player as a guitarist. And what was unusual was that he played all different types of music.”

Scipio Sargeant had made a name for himself as a guitarist on the dance band circuit in Trinidad, primarily through his role as sideman in the Carlyle Joseph and Clarence Curvan orchestras. With the popular Curvan band, in particular, he was oftentimes called upon to be a featured soloist in Beverly Griffith’s arrangements, and he routinely executed these turns flawlessly. Also in Trinidad, his talent would be brought to bear on the steel band medium, ultimately leading to his arranging the Panorama piece for Desperadoes in 1967, earning the band second place in that year’s contest.

He migrated to New York shortly afterward. In New York, even as he maintained his bona fides as a much sought talent among music makers in the Caribbean mode, he simultaneously developed a reputation as a gifted jazz and R&B guitarist, with solid arranger-composer abilities. His activity on the jazz/R&B front led to his working over the years with, in addition to the afore-mentioned Stanley Banks, the likes of legendary drummer Max Roach, pianist Kenny Kirkland, bass player Kid Creole and organist Jimmy Smith, among others. Sargeant also frequently recalled proudly an occasion on which he played in the presence of the iconic George Benson, eliciting laudatory comments from the acclaimed guitar virtuoso.

In the 1970s Sargeant organised the Jambalasi band, which enjoyed a successful run of engagements in and around New York with its repertoire of funk/Afro-Caribbean sounds. In the 70s also came one of his career highlights, when he had a stint playing and arranging for Harry Belafonte.

Later, married to singer Debra Malone, he became part of the extended family of The Wiz when Malone was a featured cast member of the musical’s touring company in England and the Continent. While in England, where he and his wife lived for four years from 1988, Sargeant had several original compositions which he arranged and on which Malone performed vocals.

Returning to New York, Sargeant resumed a busy schedule of live gigs, recording sessions and the tutoring of those, including many youngsters, who sought to tap into how richly endowed he was, musically. In the calypso-soca arena, he worked as arranger or instrumentalist with all the heavyweights, either in recordings or in live performances. He also re-connected to the steel band world, when he became the co-arranger, with Denzil Botus, of the Despers USA band, his efforts resulting in an impressive six Brooklyn Panorama championships during the 1990s.

Sargeant, who was born and grew up in Tunapuna, Trinidad, was introduced to the guitar at an early age, his father having been a player of the instrument although never professionally. But while still in his teens young Scipio followed his now deceased elder brother, Les, who was a member of the Fitz Vaughn Bryan orchestra, into the ranks of the island’s professional musicians.

Besides Les, his other siblings are sisters Jean, Shirley and Jeanne. He was the father of three - daughters Natalie and Michelle and son Scipio Jr.

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