Steelpan Tuner
 Emmanuel “Jack” Riley
WST Pan Photographer

Emmanuel “Jack” Riley


Emmanuel “Jack” Riley - Master Panist, Steelpan Tuner

As an integral member of the steelband culture and movement, Jack Riley wears at least three hats. He creates the pan instrument - hammering and shaping by hand discarded 55-gallon steel drums then turns to the next phase - tuning the pans and finally turning out a fully handcrafted musical instrument. Jack is a great improvisational steelpan player and renowned soloist. Having received accolades as a creator of and performer on the steelpan, he has the unique distinction of one who can truly be hailed as the “Master” of the Steelpan instrument.


More on Emmanuel “Jack” Riley

Steelpan Music Legends

right click for bio of Emmanuel Jack Riley

As an integral member of the steelband culture and movement, Jack Riley wears at least three hats. He creates the pan instrument - hammering and shaping by hand discarded 55-gallon steel drums then turns to the next phase - tuning the pans and finally turning out a fully handcrafted musical instrument. Jack is a great improvisational steelpan player and renowned soloist. Having received accolades as a creator of and performer on the steelpan, he has the unique distinction of one who can truly be hailed as the “Master” of the Steelpan instrument.

Emmanuel ‘Jack’ Riley told how in the 1940s as a child of only three years he went into a store and was fascinated by a musical instrument. He grew up surrounded by music and delighted in listening to his father’s comprehensive record collection, which was to have tremendous impact in his musical style and finesse. He found himself drawn hypnotically to the steelpan so much so that this family moved him around to keep him away from the bands, only to find there was one practically around the corner wherever they sent him!

Emmanuel ‘Jack’ Riley told how in the 1940s as a child of only three years he went into a store and was fascinated by a musical instrument. He grew up surrounded by music and delighted in listening to his father’s comprehensive record collection, which was to have tremendous impact in his musical style and finesse. He found himself drawn hypnotically to the steelpan so much so that this family moved him around to keep him away from the bands, only to find there was one practically around the corner wherever they sent him!

In those days the instrument had just four or five notes when Jack and friends joined their first steelband - Hell’s-A-Poppin’ Port Royale. Mere teenagers, they soon tried to join Invaders, but were thought too young and so formed their own band - Green Eyes, which eventually became Sombrero. Beginning as a repairer of the pans when the police found them and punched holes through the drums in an effort to destroy the instruments, Jack Riley eventually became more rounded and extended his tasks to ‘tuning’ pans, bringing them back into musical shape. He and friend Mike Schneider started tuning for other bands, the first being Renegades. They eventually did join Invaders as teenagers, where he met Ellie Mannette who showed him how to refine his tuning skills.

Jack remembers how an Invaders’ pan player by the name of Sterling first came up with the concept of playing two pans together (forerunner of today’s “Second Pans” or “Double Seconds”), and brought his two pans which he wanted to play to Ellie, who went away and came back with a more refined concept of his idea -and the rest is history. He himself started out as a Tenor player and recounted one of his most memorable moments, though young and very shy, as playing a solo, back in the day when the orchestra played seated with the pans secured about the neck. Jack had to stand to render his solo. Later his pan instruments of choice became the Double Seconds.

He tuned for Invaders Steelband and eventually did the same for Desperadoes (he credits their leader the legendary Rudolph Charles aka the “Hammer” - for teaching him even more about the art of pan tuning). He also traveled with Desperadoes to Africa in the early 1960s. He was also part of the National Steelband of Trinidad and Tobago and toured with them to such places as North America, Europe and the 1967 World Expo in Canada, as both player and resident pan tuner.

Eventually his love for tuning pans won out, especially when he surmised he had reached his peak as a great pan soloist renowned for his dedication and dexterity. Pan tuning is a laborious process because of the initial sinking of the steel drums, and while he himself is accustomed to the work, he acknowledges that it would be encouraging and less daunting for would-be pan tuning apprentices, if there was a mechanical process for sinking pans. It would also have to be economical and basically accomplish that first phase with outcomes similar to those from the methods employed by Ellie Mannette with his own line of pans.

These days, occasionally Jack can be caught playing a Six-Bass at different events, while enjoying his work as a pan tuner, primarily for New York’s steel orchestras.


 

Additional info below posted with special permission from the BestOfTrinidad.com by Ronald C. Emrit - check link for potential updates

DATE OF BIRTH: December 25, 1934
PLACE OF BIRTH: Trinidad
EDUCATION: Richmond Boys' EC School
STEELBANDS:
  • Invaders (1950s - 1963)
  • Desperadoes (1964 - late 1960s)
  • SPECIALTIES: •  Tuner
    •  Player
    CAREER: Riley began his steelband career in 1952 with the Green Eyes Steelband in Woodbrook. He then joined Renegades where he learned to tune pans and gained his first job in 1954 when he tuned the pans for a Speyside, Tobago, steelband. He then joined the Invaders Steelband where he learned some of the finer techniques of pan-tuning under Ellie Mannette while gaining island-wide recognition for his capabilities as a soloist on the tenor and double-second pans. His unique phrasing and extemporaneous style set a standard that has never been surpassed. By the late-1950s, Riley's name and playing style had become synonymous with the Invaders Steelband, and his virtuoso playing drew crowds of listeners on the road during Carnival. Some of his solo works were captured for history in Invaders' recordings between 1958 and 1963, the most memorable of which were "Liebestraume" (Franz Lizst), "Melody in F" (Anton Rubinstein), and "Outcast" (Mighty Sparrow). Riley moved to the Desperadoes Steelband in 1964 and established a name for himself among the elite pan-tuners. He migrated to New York, USA, by the late-1960s where he continued to tune pans for numerous steelbands.
    Compiled by Ronald C. Emrit

    right click for forum discussion Emmanuel Jack Riley

    Replies to This Discussion

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    Great to see him being honored here... Maybe USSA or NAS should consider hosting dinners in honor of these men while they're still here. or maybe that's asking too much of them...lol
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    Yes indeed Khuent... love to hear his name call!!! He is a living legend.... and still a boss improvisationalist....
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    I think it would be fitting to post recordings of Cobeau Jack's "With a Song in My 'heart", Liebestraum". "Melody in F", etc. on WST.

     

    Peter

     

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    Great idea.  Glenroy are you listening? We know you got the music.

     

    bugs

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    One of the best Solos ever ,check his improv...  Sparrow's "Out Cast '
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    I am glad to learn that Cobo Jack is still active, and being honored for his contributions to pan.  The first time I heard his name was almost 30 years ago, from Cliff Alexis.  We were at Cliff's home in DeKalb, IL, and he put on a record of something that sounded like Bach played by a steelband.  Gradually, I realized that the tenor pan was improvising, and sounding like Bach!  Cliff said, "You know who that is?  That's Cobo Jack."  I would love to hear some more of the recordings that people here are calling!

     

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    As a youth i use to push his stand and really enjoy his Fantastic playing as Invaders move

    along Tragarete Rd. J`ouvert morning A Master!!!

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    Back in the days of my youth in Trinidad even with limited mass communications, there were certain names that were legendary throughout the island for one reason or another.

    You may not have personally known them, but you'd definitely heard about them.

    Everybody knew of Neville Jules, Junior Pouchette, Dr Rat, Ghost, Whitey Kincaid, Goldteeth and on and on.

    Cobo Jack was such a name.
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    Can anybody tell me where I could find a recording of Emmanuel Rileys solos in the Invaders recordings around 1958-1960?

     

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    Here are some Invaders recordings around the date you are asking.

    Singles:

    Cute Chick/Crazy Love, Columbia TW 3000, 1959

    Hawaiian Wedding Song/With a Song in My Heart, Columbia TW 3002, 1959

    Come Back to Sorrento/Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, Columbia TW 3003, 1959, 1960

    Leibestraum/Melody in F, Columbia TW 3009, 1959

    The Steelband Music/Souvenirs, RCA 7-2161, 1961

    Beautiful Dreamer/Bull Pistle Gang, RCA 7-2162, 1961

     

    7 inch EP:

    The Invaders Steelband ("Michael", "Gun Slingers", "Liebestraum", "Melody in F"), Telco 1000, 1959

     

    Albums:

    The Invaders, Telco TL 5003, 1960

    Trinidad Wizards of the Steel Drum, RCA LPB-2017, 1961

    1962 Calypso Hits Trinidad Wizards, RCA LPB/LPS-3007, RCA Camden CDN-5104, 1962 

    Replies to This Discussion

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    Again Big Up WST for honoring a legend while he is still here. Great respect for Emmanuel "Jack" Riley and his continued contribution for the Pan. it would be great to hear some of his prolific playing. Wallace Austin  had spoken highly of him and his playing and intersting story..... Glenroy and Terry ...give us some music

    Salah

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    I am checking, Salah, actively checking!! I wish that this steel band, one of T&T's oldest, had CD compilation of their years of wonderful music. I should have: Shell Invaders Steel Orchestra: Harmony in Steel, LP RCA  3021, according to my listed ''stash". But there is more to check. Glen.....HELP!!

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    ....I also have The Invaders, Telco TL 5003 (1960) and here are side 2 tracks, copied from YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=pe91D0...

    Enjoy WST !!

    ...and here are side 1 tracks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNanJXhD_tY&feature=player_detai...

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    ....a third album I have is Steelband Classics, Vol.1 features Invader's Beautiful Dreamer on side one track 5.

    Here are all the tracks originally posted on YouTube by SuperSnk1. (not very clean but....retro sweetness)

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UF4lO7TO4A&feature=player_detai...

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    I've head his name mentioned and referenced over the years but nice to put a face to it...  WST strikes a chord again...  Thanks...

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    To all members that do not live in New York, you could always catch Jack playing in a band J'ouvert labour day

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    I grew up on Luis Street in Woodbrook, two blocks from the Invaders yard.  In the mid-fifties, when the great steelband experiment was accelerating from single pans (around the neck) to multiple-pan instruments, one could hear the sweet sound of the "harps" many blocks away, long into the night and all year round.  As a youngster, I was drawn to the music but didn't dare step foot in the "big" yard because of the threat of a good "cut-ass" from my father.  So I did the next best thing.  I asked my father, who knew "Jack" very well from his part-time work at the Queen's Park Oval, to get him to tune a tenor-pan for me.  A few weeks before Christmas 1960, I got my wish when I took $20 to Jack at the Invaders yard for a brand new tenor-pan, just in time for me to start playing with the band for Carnival 1961.  Today, when many soloists offer us weak chromatic scales as improvisations, I would recommend that readers listen to Jack's solo in  "Liebestraume" which was recorded in 1958. His "rev," as we used to call soloing back then, would have made Franz Liszt proud and he set a standard for others to be measured by over the past 54 years.  After “Liebestraume,” you can then listen to “Melody in F” for more of Jack’s soloing.  Of course, everyone in Invaders wanted to play like Jack and his phrasing style had an impact on the unique sound of the band during the late-1950s and early-1960s.  Thanks, Jack!! 

    [P.S.:  I spoke with Jack in May 2011 and he still remembers getting $20 for tuning a tenor-pan for me in 1960.]

     

    Ronald C. Emrit

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    Aye Ron:

    2 blocks from Invaders?

    De Rousseaus....Miss Blanche....De Whites,.....De Nunes',....Emamali's...de Zakours.....Cassanovas, John Buddy Williams.....not forgetting Carla. 

    An' hear nah!!! — Tall Boy!  John Man!! 

    Dah Is WoodBrook in dem days.  We WoodBrook. (Give Errol a high five). Did you not play with Solo?

    I is 3 houses from Invaders.

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    People have all the wonderful work of Jack listed here. Sparrow Outcast must be added as one of the best solos EVER!!

    His work can be transferred to CD's and sold as  work of the master, of course with income for the man.

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    Terry, you have priceless material that no money can buy.A friend made me cassettes and converted to CD's. My car is getting "fed up" of the repeats.

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    Andre-Roger Dellevi: Thanks for posting those tracks I enjoyed them both....memories of the vibrant evolution of Pan music.

     WST sparkle video logo An Exclusive When Steel Talks Interview with Emmanuel “Jack” Riley