Boogsie, Two-Left, Andy & My Dad

Let’s get with the Programme, Pan Jazz abounds in the Caribbean

by Dalton Narine

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Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine

Hear the Phase ….

I thought my only complaint with the recent live recording of Boogsie Sharpe’s “Only You” session at the Phase II panyard a week or so ago was the sound of the four double guitar pans, as if the riffs were stuck on a cooking oil drum, which, of course, was an originator of the ensemble of drums we have today.

How wrong I was. It didn’t happen. Boogsie acknowledged adding a bass player and two cowbells.

Len "Boogsie" Sharpe - Champion Steelpan Arranger
Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

Boogsie utilized the hand percussion instrument used in various styles of music including Pan and Salsa — and infrequently in popular music.

“Maybe,” he pondered, “it was the cowbells. You know how I always try something new.”

But that didn’t mirror renowned Jazz artiste Wynton Marsalis’ advice following a session at the Hilton in the late ‘80s.

Boogsie improvised alongside Marsalis in the jazz and blues concert. Afterward, the Louisiana trumpet player offered some advice, Boogsie walking away from that awesome jam, his head in the clouds.

“He’s right. I got to work on my control.”

And Marsalis wasn’t blowing his own trumpet, so to speak.

Maybe that’s what Marsalis was reaching for— that Boogsie’s freedom of expression and improvisation should be carefully contained and controlled.

Andy Narell - Steelpan Arranger
Andy Narell

Could be why Andy Narell’s music sells. It is precisely this awareness that delineates separation between spectator and performer, or performer and the magic of the art.

Boogsie has since complied, but when you catch him in a setting, say, the yard, maybe, just maybe, he’s trying to impress the yardies.

And all that’s not jazz. The music should come from the unconscious the way writers meditate and write. Ramajay is an obscene word to me when it is spoken or delivered vociferously that way.

Still, I always fall in love all over again when I hear Andre Tanker’s “Forward Home,” played as a duet by Boogsie on the PHI pan alongside Leon “Smooth” Edwards on the double seconds pan.

(Though too many hard-boiled notes played on the four pan, for example, should have bystanders recoiling, when you consider Tanker’s vision of the song.)

Likewise, listen to Narell’s version, if you’re so inclined.

Jus’ saying.

One of the great panists of our time, Boogsie is sometimes adored as a Pan freak.

Not so. Too harsh. Lay off.

Years ago, I sat with Boogsie and song writer Alvin Daniell in my home admiring their art at putting together a Carnival album for Denise Plummer and Phase II. Another time, the genius of Boogsie came alive on the piano as he and Daniell set up their usual Carnival soundtrack for pan on the road.

Phase II bass player in Panorama heaven on stage performing “Music In We Blood”

Meanwhile, one never expects this elite musician to rush “Music In We Blood” on the drag, then taking it to the finals in Bradley’s face, especially with Boogsie’s mother fiercely ill, though wriggling her toes in affirmation. (Boogsie: “It was a signal that the music was good.”)

Nor, as the very last band in a Pan on the Avenue moment, Phase II swinging its instruments around a corner while stirring up an ancient Lord Melody Ruso, then caressing the evening with Cole Porter’s classic, That Old Black Magic, which moved many souls that night, including this writer. Such a classic. Why hasn’t it played on YouTube?

Yet, it was Joe Public who railed against my stance that Boogsie’s use of the Minor key in his Panorama song, Red, White and Black, was good music.

Why not? Where were they when Kitchener brought down the house with Pan in A Minor (Boogsie on the Tenor, Kitch romanticized).

For real, one of the best songs played on a Panorama Final Night. Need I say more?

Rudy Smith - Steelband Arranger
Rudy “Two-Lef” Smith

When it comes to Jazz, though, according to Gerald Carter, an enthusiast of the culture, Rudy ‘Two-Left’ Smith remains one of the best in the business.

“Definitely,” says Carter, whose collection features a heaping lot of albums that include the requisite greats of Jazz.

“First time I heard him,” Carter recalls, “was at the Brooklyn College Live concert.

“Very impressive. Two-Left and David (Happy) Williams together on Bass proved to me that he was real good. It was real good Jazz.”

Carter trots out “Extempo Steelband & Guests,” a Kitchener medley, arranged by Andy Narell, and you’re further enthused by Caribbean Jazz. Catch it on YouTube.

I’m accustomed, though, to taking in the music in Harlem, and Brooklyn, too, where, once upon a time, Sun Ra, going crazy as usual on his saxophone, took the audience around the world of Jazz and defined the adventure as Sunday school because that’s when the Saturday-night session ended, the audience applauding, then walking out on the sawdust floor, into the rising sun, smoke and laughter tumbling in the air.

Leon “Foster” Thomas at Club Bonafide
Leon “Foster” Thomas at Club Bonafide

“If you pour some jazz on whatever’s wrong,” Levon Helm, a legendary drummer once said, “It sure will help out.”

That very well may be the lingo of musicians such as Rudy Smith, Thelonious Monk and other old-schoolers like Charlie Parker.

I’m looking forward to Leon Pan Foster’s next Pan Jazz session, wherever and whenever it happens.

Pan Foster will probably need to jam it in my ear, considering that when I orchestrated a Jazz event in Miami many moons and decades ago, it generated so much excitement, the audience wanted more. It was close to morning when the event climaxed.

Back then, if you’d caught Boogsie Sharpe and the late Jaco Pastorius’ steel pan player Othello Molineaux conversing, no doubt they’d still be arguing over which one had the upper hand, or the whip hand.

It ranks as my best moment in Pan, as I oogled these jazzists slinging it out.

Almost as good as my first year playing Pan with Trinidad All Stars and spreading the power of the instruments on J’Ouvert as the band spun out Intermezzo, Liebestraum and Barcarolle, about three thousand sailor mas players grinding on the music about and across Port of Spain later in the day and, of course, Carnival Tuesday, too.

Two years later, my father was caught in a pan war on Frederick Street, bottles zinging overhead, spectators running for their lives, the old man racing home to write a letter about beating me up, putting me in jail with steel band payers, locking up every man jack, then tossing the key in the sea (His words, verbatim). I thought he’d found a job at the Royal Jail. He’s lucky I was fighting in a different war.

My head deep in a bunker and ducking enemy fire, I squinted to read his ugly mail. Eventually, two years later, when Trinidad All Stars paid tribute to American composer and pianist George Gershwin, the Rhapsody in Blue lighting and effects that glowed around Queens Hall were well beyond his imagination.

Afterward, dressed to the nines, he sat in one of the best seats in the house, applauding the players and loving up the classics. He became a Trinidad All Star to his death. Pan and Panorama were his life since I took his apology seriously.

Oh, by the way, it’s time Two-Left returns home and bring down the house in pre-Carnival sessions at venues all over. Don’t peek at his legs, though. Listen while he plays mind-blowing jazz. You’ll be richer for his stylish execution.

Garvin Blake on stage at the Gala Trinbute
Garvin Blake

My own collection would second the motion, with due respect to Smokey Robinson.

I’m saying that I agree with the proposed course of action as well as with the idea.

C’mon, get with the program, Pan people. So many Pan jazzists abound in Sweet T&T and all over the Caribbean. American FM stations are salivating over the playlists of Leon Pan Foster, Rudy ‘Two-Left’ Smith, Andy Narell, Othello Molineaux and Garvin Blake.

Shower your love and praise, brethren. If, as they say, “it’s we ting,” why not pay notice?

For sure, It’s worth the price.

   “Boogsie” on pan in Cuba performing “Yesterday”

Dalton Narine and Len Boogsie Sharpe
Dalton Narine interviews Len “Boogsie” Sharpe

Dalton Narine
About the author, Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine watched a movie among friends and was harassed for watching the credits roll. He was 12. They laughed at his quip that someday his name would be scrolling like that on a movie screen somewhere. Little did they know it was a prescient warning.

A similar scene played when Narine stopped learning the piano and walked into a panyard. Nobody believed him until they saw him playing classical music on pan on J’Ouvert. Eventually Narine co-founded the iconic PAN magazine and became senior editor.

Narine, an award-winning writer for two newspapers and a magazine, started working on a novel. But the chair of Columbia University film school steered him toward a screenplay instead. Your story is a movie, the professor said. Today Narine is working on his final draft, with two more screenplays in his head.

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