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.
also in studio working hard on his follow up CD; his last offering 'From
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  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
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
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,
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
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
Steelpan Jazz Show in New York.