- 1. What’s happening
with Andy Narell?
AN - A lot
actually. I just finished two month’s of work with university
and high school steelbands in the States. It was a very
intense schedule - a lot of teaching/rehearsing and more
than 15 concerts. I just did a really interesting project
with Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra in Holland.
It was the first time I’ve had my music arranged for a
symphony orchestra, with me playing as the soloist. It went
really well, and I'm hoping to be able to do it more, keep
developing the ideas, and maybe reach a very different
public. I’m also in the middle of two film projects. One is
a documentary about me for French television, and the other
is a concert video of the show I did with Trinidad All Stars
at the Trinidad Steelpan and Jazz Festival last year.
Actually the two projects are very closely related. The
French crew came to Trinidad twice - to film the All Stars
project, and again for Carnival. The more time they spend
there, the more the film is evolving into a story about
Trinidad and the pan, which I’m really happy about. They’ve
shot some great footage there, and interviewed a lot of
interesting people -
etc... I have a clip of the concert on my
MySpace page, or
you can search ‘Andy Narell and
Trinidad All Stars’
There’s a lot more, but I’ll let you get to another
2. Are you still based in France?
AN - Yeah, I’m
in Paris. I’ve been there 6 years now, and I’m finding it
more interesting all the time. When I first came over I
focused on two projects -
Sakésho (with Mario Canonge,
Michel Alibo, and Jean Philippe Fanfant), and doing
steelband music at Calypsociation. I've learned a lot from
Mario, Michel, and Jean Phi, and the band is ongoing. We
don’t have that many gigs, but everybody stays super busy
anyway. I parted ways with
Calypsociation, but I still have
a steelband there with some of those players. I’m starting
to work with different people now. In particular there are a
some African musicians in Paris who I’ve been wanting to
work with, and I’m finally getting around to it, and coming
up with ideas for some new music. And again, like with Sakésho, I’m getting schooled by some really heavy musicians
that have a very different point of view. There’s so much to
3. You’ve been hitting the college scene a lot this year.
How’s that going? What impact would you like to see this
have on the steelpan music arena?
AN - It’s been
going great. There’s been a profound change in the level of
playing at the university level in recent years. When I
first started visiting universities in the 80’s, the
programs were being run by percussion teachers that didn’t
know much about playing pan or steelband music.
Now we have
a second generation of teachers who played pan when they
were in college, and have had a chance to work with
Liam Teague, my
brother Jeff, me, etc. and they have access to scores by all
those guys. Most have been to Trinidad. The level of playing
by the kids in these programs is so much higher than it was
10 years ago, and they’re playing a lot of difficult music.
The fact that these kids read music is creating a whole new
set of possibilities for steelband music. I’ve been working
with university (and even high school) bands that have taken
on an hour of my music as their semester’s work, in addition
to the rest of their repertoire. I’ll give you another
example - last year in Morgantown WV (Ellie Mannette
Workshop) we had a 55–piece band that learned almost an hour
of music by myself, Ray Holman, Robbie Greenidge, and my
brother Jeff - in 6 days. Ray’s entire Panorama
arrangement from 2007, ‘Tatoom,’ etc. Believe it or not, they played it
Now it wasn’t the same level of performance that I got from
Trinidad All Stars, but those guys practiced 5 nights a week
for 6 months to play 75 minutes of music. This was 6 days.
So imagine the impact this can have on the ability for
steelband composers to not only teach, but get their music
4. From a music education perspective - how do you rate the
university–level institutions that are now offering the
steelpan as an instrument of study, and;
5. Are there any institutions or programs that stand out?
AN - Steelband
programs at the high school and university level have
demonstrated for some time that it’s a valuable music
experience, and as far as I’m concerned, any approach is
beneficial to a music education program. The recent advances
in steelband education - and the involvement of the best
steelband composers - are putting those programs among the
most challenging and rewarding musical experiences of
anything the kids can get in school. And the door is wide
open for development. There aren’t really that many schools
doing it yet, so there’s plenty of room for growth and
There are a number of schools that have strong programs, and
I know I’ll be leaving many out, but a short list would have
Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio),
Kentucky, North Texas St, Wichita St., Delaware, West
Virginia, Akron. There are some high schools I’d like to
mention too - Catonsville MD, Walnut Hills (Cincinnati OH),
Marcus H.S. (Dallas), The Steelheads (Flint MI. You’d be
amazed at the repertoire these kids can play.
6. What’s different in pan in the year 2008 compared to 1998
guess the biggest change is the growth of pan
internationally, and what I mentioned before about the new
generation of reading, educated players who can also groove.
I’m excited about the youth
movement in New York - the Brooklyn bands are full of kids,
and many of them want to be musicians.
exciting thing that I see happening in Trinidad is that some
of the steelbands are getting involved in music education.
Birdsong has been running music camps where the kids get
instruction in keyboards, horns, guitars, voice, dance,
theory - as well as steelband music. Pamberi has a band of
guys that are all working on soloing, learning about music
theory, becoming better rounded musicians.
One thing that I was reminded of by my experience with
Trinidad All Stars is that Trinidad is still home to the
greatest steelbands in the world. They practice harder and
groove harder than anybody, and they were ready to be
challenged by the music, to adopt a different approach from
the way they play the rest of their repertoire. I was very
encouraged by that.
I’m still worried about the musical climate in Trini,
particularly around the competitions. For the most part, I
see very few new ideas in the music for those festivals, and
I think we’re witnessing a downward spiral of public
interest in the music. It’s like watching two defensive
basketball teams go at it - the only thing interesting is
the outcome. I think we really need to question the wisdom
of giving more and more money to the winners, so the same
five bands can duke it out playing the same thing in front
of the same judges year after year - and start thinking
about how to create new and exciting music for steelbands,
how to make better audio and video recordings to reach the
hundreds of millions of people that are online looking at YouTube, how to create more opportunities for pan players
and orchestras to perform, and how to give better music
education to our kids.
7. Panonthenet.com is getting 1000’s of visitors, emails,
steelpan search–related requests and 1000’s more on YouTube
and similarly–branded channels, viewers on WST steelband
video channels - daily, from all over the world, from a wide
and varied audience from Alaska to Australia. Has the
steelpan instrument finally begun to make serious inroads
into the mainstream consciousness?
AN - I don’t
think so. Not yet. You guys are doing a good job, and pan is
spreading all over the world, but I wouldn’t call it
mainstream by any means, any more than I’d call my music
mainstream. I think we’d do well to consider where we are
right now as a good beginning.
8. You will again be part of a great line–up of stellar
musicians (Garvin Blake,
Rudy Smith and
Ralph Macdonald) for
Fathers’ Day Steelpan Jazz Concert at House of
Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. WST’s heard you’re going
to be presenting a special show this year - somewhat
different than what we’ve seen in the past. What can the
thinking for a while about putting together a jazz band to
take a new look at vintage Calypso, and we’re bringing Relator
up from Trinidad to sing and play guitar with the band. Relator is a guy I have enormous respect for, and I’d
be a fan of his whether or not I got to play with him. He’s
a great composer, sings beautifully, is a master of extempo,
plays beautiful guitar and cuatro, and is a walking
encyclopedia of calypso. We’ve been playing together in
various situations, and I convinced him to let me put a band
together to play Lord Kitchener and the other greats, as
well as some of his own tunes. We’re going to bring back
some of that music from the 50’s and 60’s when Kitchener and
Terror were living in London, listening to Bebop and playing
with jazz musicians – and put our own thing together, try to
give new life to some classic music. Oh, and be ready
to laugh. Relator is a very funny guy, and some of the songs
are pretty hilarious.
9. Lord Relator is one of the true calypso greats,
and performing talents - how did the idea of you teaming up
with him come about?
AN - We
actually met in Antigua, playing and teaching at a festival
put on by
Gemonites Steelband. We
connected over Kitchener’s music, which we both love, and
started playing together. We’ve played together in Trinidad
and Barbados as well, and I’ve enrolled myself in the
University of Calypso, playing with him every chance I can,
and trying to absorb some of his knowledge. We’ve played
some gigs, have limed and jammed, and I proposed doing a
jazz/calypso band together, with him out front singing and
playing guitar, and he agreed to give it a try. The gig at
Jazz at Lincoln Center will be our maiden voyage.
- The University of Calypso - love it.
10. A few years ago When Steel Talks did a series that
highlighted the historical links between Pan, Calypso and
the Calypsonian. Any chance of that special relationship
AN - As far as
I’m concerned, that link has been there all along, and I’ve
been loving and playing calypso music all my life.
Steelbands have continued to play calypso. I think if
there’s something that we’re looking to revive, it’s the
jazz element in the calypso, which has been largely
forgotten, replaced by drum machines, computers,
overdubbing, copy/paste. Much of what we consider to be the
real feeling of calypso music came from the interaction of calypsonians like Lord Kitchener with musicians like Fitzroy
Coleman, Russ Henderson, Rupert Nurse, and the other jazz
musicians in London in the fifties. There was a great deal
of improvisation and jazz soloing. What I want to do is set
up a situation where we can be creative at the same time
we’re mining this incredible wealth of good music and
11. On the topic of Calypso, there have been some intense
discussions as to the future of the Calypso genre,
particularly in Trinidad. What is your feeling on the future
of calypso from your perspective as a steelpan musician?
AN - It seems
that Calypso as popular music in Trinidad is in serious
trouble. The record industry is in freefall, there is
very little calypso on the radio, very few opportunities for
Young people want loud dance music for the most
part, and the audience that knows and loves calypso is
aging. So the future of Calypso is certainly in danger. That
doesn’t mean the music is dead. There are still artists
committed to creating new calypsos, and in keeping alive the
classic calypsos of other eras. If we love this music, we
have to stay positive. Look what happened with the Buena
Vista Social Club. That was a project that happened by
accident, featuring artists who had been out of work for
some time, playing music that had been popular in the 50’s.
It sold millions of CDs, and they packed 2500–seat concert
halls all over the world. The sudden popularity was a
phenomenon, and there’s no formula for repeating that, but
people responded to the feeling of the music, the genius of
the compositions, and the artistry of the performers. I
started listening to calypso when I was a little kid growing
up in New York, and got to see performers like Sparrow by
the time I was 11 or 12 years old. I’ve always believed that
calypso could reach a wide audience, and as long as there
are artists performing it with sincerity, it’s alive and
well, and who knows - maybe it’s ready to break out.
12. The Abstract Entertainment–produced PanJazz show
in New York has grown considerably since it was first
introduced - and was sold–out last year. As it relates to these types of
shows, is this indicative of what you have been experiencing
throughout the USA, and the global steelpan music community?
AN - No, it’s
not a widespread phenomenon as far as I can tell. But from
my point of view, some good things are happening. The fact
Ralph Ramsey (Abstract Entertainment) is making an
investment in letting me bring this new project into a venue
like JALC, that Ainsley Mark from the Trinidad Steelpan and
Jazz Festival made a six–month project with Trinidad All
Stars possible - these are important steps. It’s critical
that we have presenters who have artistic vision as well as
the commitment that it takes to make the business work.
As far as the rest of the USA (and the world) is concerned,
my experience is that these shows and the opportunities to
play jazz are few and far between, but the opportunities to
teach and play steelband music are on the rise. But that’s
just what I’m going through.
13. What's on the recording horizon for Andy Narell?
AN - I’m
working on several things at once right now, and I don’t
know which will come out first. I’m hoping to record with Relator and the calypso project - we’ll see where we are
after the gig at JALC. We’re working on a DVD of ‘Andy
Narell and Trinidad All Stars’ at Queens Hall, and I hope to
have that out soon, possibly packaged together with the
French documentary. And I’m working on a project with some
amazing composer/musicians from Africa that I hope to record
in the next year or so.
Always great talking to you and sharing your views and
knowledge with the WST global audience.
info on Panjazz at JALC