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Robert Greenidge
world-renowned stalwart musician
on the steelpan scene

In the Spotlight


USA - There is never a dull moment for world-renowned Robert Greenidge, a musician and pannist with a proven track record, and who maintains a hectic schedule year round.  Currently he is on tour with Jimmy Buffet, and has been since the end of the 2007 panorama season in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this year.  Greenidge is also in studio working hard on his follow up CD; his last offering 'From The Heart' was in December 2003.'  With no release date yet set for his latest work, fans can look out for it sometime next year.

But before that, pan lovers can catch Greenidge in action at various shows including the upcoming Steelpan Jazz Father's Day concert at Lincoln Center in New York later this month, and at a July performance in Toronto, where Andy Narell is also likely to be on the card.  Also in July, Robert Greenidge will be dispensing his wealth of knowledge and skills at a workshop featured as part of Ellie Mannette's annual Festival of Steel, in Morgantown, West Virginia. 

He continues touring in August, when he simultaneously works on getting some of his recordings done with several of the great musicians he is around.  Greenidge remains busy on tour throughout September and expects to take a break in November where, in the cycle of things, he customarily turns his mind to other matters, such as the annual upcoming panorama [2008] season in Trinidad & Tobago.  November/December marks the general period where steel orchestras in the twin-island republic begin to focus on matters pertinent to the forthcoming steelband music panorama season.

Sometimes there is a bit of conflict between panorama and touring dates, but Greenidge tries to work through the challenges.  In fact for the 2007 panorama season, his schedule allowed him to fly into Trinidad to work with Desperadoes Steel orchestra for whom he majorly arranged their 2007 competition piece 'Band From Space' - only five days before their pan yard performance which doubled as a preliminary round showcase,  to share with pan lovers the music of the large orchestras, but not  formally adjudicated.  This event predicated their  semi-final round of competition.  All the large steel orchestras, nationwide, advanced to the semi-final round by default in 2007.

Greenidge says Curtis Edwards and Andre Robley - two younger but seasoned musicians within the band, whose skill sets have been honed from years under the stalwarts (Greenidge, Beverly Griffith and the late master Clive Bradley) - competently led the band through the initial phases of its panorama season.

In the midst of his customary timetable, Greenidge has two pet projects close to his heart - a CD with Desperadoes and a featured artist, and moving toward producing a musical work, possibly along classical lines, incorporating the likes of Wynton Marsalis and other artists, such as the crew he performed with at Jazz at Lincoln Center's 6th Annual Spring Gala on May 14.  Of that event, Greenidge said he 'had a nice session' at the show hosted by Chevy Chase and showcasing Broadway singer Barbara Cook, Lenny Kravitz, guitarist Derek Trucks and many more stars - all of whom were backed by the Wynton Marsalis Septet.  Jimmy Buffet included a song penned by Ralph Macdonald (pictured above with Greenidge), which featured a pan solo, performed of course by Robert himself.

When Steel Talks asked the illustrious musician what advice he would give to young, or up-and-coming steelpan artists.  His rejoinder was if they were serious, to be on track for success, they needed to 'pick up the instrument, put in serious practice, and above all, learn to read music.'  Greenidge himself listens to other established musicians, and suggested that they do the same.  Would-be professional steelpan musicians and arrangers would do well to listen to others who came before them and note orchestration techniques, continued Greenidge, citing Pat Bishop's work in the field as an example.  A musical degree goes a long way, and he held up Liam Teague of Northern Illinois University, who is now assistant professor of music at the institution and co-director of its steelband, but who started out attending the institution, majoring in steelpan, and Clifford Alexis, one of Teague's colleagues - as established steelpan personalities to look up to.  The music veteran's final bit of advice?  Make sure you are on par with, or better than, the rest [of steel pannists] in the world.

Greenidge is also active on the US college/university circuit, and took time to point out that many students majoring in percussion ensure that the steelpan is one of their instruments.  Needless to say, they are ahead because sight-reading is mandatory.  The advantages of this become obvious, according to Greenidge, in settings such as Ellie Mannette's Festival of Steel, where the ability to read music will allow about one hundred steelpan musicians to come together and perform at the end of the week-long event, just as any other conventional orchestra.

When Steel Talks decided to go in depth about Trinidad & Tobago's past panorama season and Desperadoes, where the orchestra just made it out of the semi-final round.  Greenidge is of the opinion that the band was not really heard properly at the semi finals, which was staged at the western end of the Queen's Park Savannah in a smaller setting, and he cited the challenge of setting up the orchestra as one contributing issue to a bit of disorganization, instrument-wise, on the stage.  Despite this, 'the band sounded good,' insisted the arranger.  "The arrangement was good" says Greenidge, "everything was great; it so happens that - I don't know what really went wrong."

Asked about some opinions that Desperadoes' semi-final arrangement differed markedly from the final-night version, more so than usual, Greenidge commented there were definitely some additions and changes, like all the orchestras as they progress from round to round.  He again spoke very highly of Andre Robley and Curtis Edwards, the two Desperadoes players/arrangers who started the arranging work on the selection - "they did great work," declared Greenidge.  After the semi-final phase, the subsequent re-working of the arrangement reflected attention to the judges' comments, and also give Greenidge a chance to have greater input than he had at the beginning while he was still on tour.  Ultimately, the band placed fourth behind Trinidad All Stars, Phase II Pan Groove, and Exodus in the 2007 championship battle.

Desperadoes was the last major orchestra to publicize their choice of arranger for 2007.  Asked to comment on if his schedule had impacted in any way on that late declaration, Greenidge pointed out that he had been committed to being their arranger for some time, and that while it was 'very hard not to be there' earlier because of his additional overseas commitments, he was at the same time pleased at the opportunity presented for Robley and Edwards to initiate the arrangement.

Long after the event, sentiments still vary on the choice of Skinner Park in south Trinidad as the venue for the 2007 Panorama finals for the first time in the competition's history, especially with the traditional stage at the Queen's Park Savannah left virtually untouched at the time of the show, though pending demolition.  Personally, Greenidge agreed that one definitely missed the experience of 'the drag' at the Queen's Park Savannah. 

For readers unfamiliar with the concept of 'the drag,' this area was to the eastern end of the stage and traditionally allowed for the socialization of the pan community, locals and visitors alike, and enjoyment of free pre-competition showings by the bands.  It in itself was such an 'institution' than many pan lovers have historically declared 'the drag' experience as their panorama, never setting foot inside the Grand or North stands.

Greenidge noted that organizers Pan Trinbago wanted to put on a show, and said certainly that atmosphere came across at Skinner Park.  "It was like you came to a major concert, it was great" said Greenidge, "...but we do miss the savannah, of course."  He added "we don't run the business; as a member of an organization, the bands have to abide."

He also missed the drag, he said, because he did not get to hear the other bands, as the layout was not the same, (where all the bands were positioned in the same general area practicing on the drag prior to taking the stage, and you could amble around from one orchestra to another taking in their music).  "The thing about the drag, is that you could settle up and hear everybody before they go on; but the show itself at Skinner Park was very nice," noted Greenidge.  He ended by expressing optimism for an even better showing by Desperadoes Steel Orchestra for the 2008 panorama competition.

Look out for Greenidge in his glory, as part of the lineup at the upcoming Steelpan Jazz Show in New York.




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