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.
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.
account of the steelband movement and his viewpoint of the
genius of the legendary Rudolph Charles, during his
chat with When Steel Talks.
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
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
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.
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.
his other siblings are sisters Jean, Shirley and Jeanne.
He was the father of three - daughters Natalie and
Michelle and son Scipio Jr.
on Scipio Sargeant