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THE SPIRIT OF JOY - Tribute to Ken “Professor” Philmore

by Rubadiri Victor

Imagine if he had the support. Imagine him as an arrow-head of a ambassadorial thrust for Kaiso-Jazz, Pan, and Brand T&T Music. Imagine us taking ourselves seriously. As serious as Tax…

Published with the expressed permission of, and submitted by - Rubadiri Victor

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - Gone too soon... That joyful, spritely whisp of energy- full of love and craft- now no more. The passing of Ken “Professor” Philmore is a tragedy in so many ways. Not just because any death by accident and of someone adjudged to be young feels like a breach - but because he was a Genius that never got his due. As arranger. As player… As pioneer. And although Trinidad’s real talent seems to be its genius in disrespecting Heroes- something about Philmore’s passing at this time in our history seems to loom larger as metaphor and indictment. In him I feel we see visible a Genius Soul who had a capacity to command the world- but was restrained and confined by our pettiness and capacity to sabotage our Gifted and our Gifts...

Ken “Professor” Philmore  - Rest in Peace Genius
Ken “Professor” Philmore

Prof was outside the boy’s club- the one that exists despite our national philistinism- the one that still honors “Boogsie,” Holman, and others. Panmen have been good to themselves in creating a buffer against the cultural violence of this society, but it still has its cliques and pecking order… Ken was just outside to the left of that... Then there were those years 1989, 1990 and 1991 with Fonclaire when he should have won Panorama and sent the Festival into the future with his jazzy arrangements-but the judges held to the status quo… It must have been frustrating for him- that string of 2nds… This was also the period of the rise of Pamberi and the brilliant arrangements of Godwin Bowen- where Pamberi too were unfairly dealt with-sometimes being expunged at Semi-Finals when they should have been top 3 in the finals… It was obviously a period of generational inheritance in the Panorama and the country- the passing of the baton. Rudder, the Kiskadee Karavan, young designers like The Cloth and First Chapter Adam were shaking things up. What should have happened was that “Professor” should have won, Pamberi placed in the top three and the SOUND of Panorama reinvented and re-invigorated by new-blood. But like the generation before that failed to crown Shadow with the Bassman and put back Sparrow and Kitch for a next 10 years, we sabotaged the ritual and ensured the Festival would become paralysed and eventually irrelevant because we cheated the Inheritance of the next generation. We aborted the evolution of the form… I remember the electricity that accompanied that trilogy of Fonclaire performances… You knew you were hearing something new, brilliant, beautiful, blowmind, next…

A lot of people like to indict Trinidad’s ‘competition mentality’ in our Carnival culture. They are wrong. We do not have a competition culture- we have a ‘Gayelle culture’ and a ‘Monarchial culture’- which is very different. At its best- before it was corrupted by political interference and bourgeois judges- The People created a series of Monarchial gayelles which demanded Artists and Warriors conjugate the mood of the People. “Give us back our Soul” was the request! The ones who won were those Artists and Warriors who—by the sheer brilliance of their Craft and the ability of Great Art to tell the greatest Truths—unlocked the secret rhythms of the Trinidad and Tobago people. If those competitions—Dimanche Gras, Calypso Monarch, Panorama, King and Queen of the Bands, Band of the Year, Soca Monarch, Stick-fighting Champion, Ole Mas champion, etc.—were left to their own devices with the People deciding, we would have still have a magical culture unlike any that exists on planet Earth. Instead the system of judgment became corrupted and champions crowned that were not worthy. This has devalued each competition and sent the Carnival into a death-spiral… We aborted generational inheritance and have being paying with a multitude of social ills ever since…

Rubadiri Victor
Rubadiri Victor

“Professor” Ken Philmore should have been one of our Immortal Monarchs and Champions. The 89-91 Fonclaire should have been one of our watersheds…

1990’s ‘Pan by Storm’ would have crowned a remarkable period for Ken where it was clear that he was straining at the leash to take Pan further. In 1988, he appeared with Tina Turner and Lionel Hampton in New York and was honoured by Pan Trinbago as most outstanding musical arranger. “In New York he received a special award for his contribution to music by Mayor Koch. Following successes in Los Angeles and numerous standing ovations at Madison Square Garden in New York, ‘Professor’ was invited by Mercer Ellington to join the prestigious Duke Ellington Orchestra for their tours to Europe and North America. He toured with the band during the period 1989 - 1991. On their 1990 album - Music is My Mistress - Ken was the featured soloist on the selection Queenie Pie Reggae.” *

The failure of Trinidad to embrace the new sound he had to offer must have hurt Ken deeply. He did cry. It probably also helped push him more outside of our shores for the validation and new horizons for the instrument that we seemed to be spurning. Even with family—his wife and children—it must have been lonely. This loneliness of the exceptional person in Trinidad... This exile before exile...

Without assistance, without adulation, without even our cursory attention, “Professor” went about spreading the gospel of our sound and our instrument. He would continue to push the international profile of Pan further appearing with giants- Tito Puente, Ella Fitzgerald, Phyllis Hyman, Nancy Wilson, Tina Turner, Ralph MacDonald, George Howard and jazz great Lionel Hampton. He also performed with Andy Narell, Sarah Vaughn, Maria Carey, Freddie Jackson, George Benson, Bob James and George Howard at Jazz Festivals world-wide. He performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London, and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. In 1997 he performed at Jazz Central on the BET TV channel Washington, DC. We were not paying attention. As is our wont…

Imagine if he had the support. Imagine him as an arrow-head of a ambassadorial thrust for Kaiso-Jazz, Pan, and Brand T&T Music. Imagine us taking ourselves seriously. As serious as Tax…

His validation was mostly outside. Ken’s first opportunity as an arranger occurred in 1981 when he arranged for BWIA Sonatas in New York. He consequently won 6 Panoramas in New York with the same band. He would find validation as a musician from foreign bandleaders. There was no Trinidad facilitation- as has happened with all our global pioneers- Sparrow, Kitchener, the 80s Phase 2, the 70s Despers, etc. All global tour adventurers, pioneers in spaces we have not gone before… We have not asked them the relevant questions, we have preserved no maps, nor documented pathways… We have not duplicated their successes for others… The next “Professor” will be like the first. There will be no country behind him…

Unless we commit to change.

The picture that accompanies this piece comes from 2 Legacy projects I have pioneered as a counter to Trinidad’s hero-killing machine. One is Generation Lion magazine and the other is Project: Memory. The 2 projects are about consecrating our Legacy by recording scribal and audio-visual biographies of our great individuals and shooting immortal portraiture of them by commissioning our greatest photographers to shoot magical portraits that depict the essence of the subject. These range from pure portraiture, stylized portraiture, to documentation of their work spaces, great works, homes, etc. The idea is to create an archive of Genius by Genius that at some point in time would come together in a National Hall of Fame. My organization- the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad & Tobago (ACTT)- now has hundreds of thousands of images of our heroic class and hundreds of biographies. We intend to create the National Hall of Fame without government. It will be an institution created ‘by the People, for the People.’ Professor’s photographs and biography would hold pride of place. Keep looking out for more details…

Ken never got his due as a soloist either. He was something special. He brought to his playing his interpretation of Jazz soaked through with that Joy which was his calling card. Luv. Love. He played with Love. He was witty, quick, technical, and capable of beautiful passages, narratives, and unexpected melodic lines. We have not mapped the modalities of his solos as we have not mapped his arrangements. He was not called to lecture at the UTT or UWI- as neither were Clive Bradley, “Jit”, and most of our giants when we had them. So we lost the opportunity for real apprenticeship and real matriculation. We lost a chance to interrogate our self... He was here. Available to us. We did not see him. Let us crown him now. And let us do better.

*From Philmore’s Professional biography

Rubadiri Victor -
President at Artists' Coalition of Trinidad & Tobago (ACTT)
 and Director at Passion Fruit Publishing Ltd./ Ringbellion Multi-Mediaworks Ltd./ Nation

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