Steelpan Arranger
Ken "Professor" Philmore - Steelpan Arranger
WST Pan Photographer

Ken “Professor” Philmore

April 1960 — 30 September 2018

Ken “Professor” Philmore - Sangre Grande Cordettes, New East Side Dimension, Metronomes, Fonclaire, Sound Specialists of Laventille, Sonatas (New York), Harmony (New York)
Panorama Championships
New York - 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989
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Ken Philmore is from the twin-island country of Trinidad and Tobago, birthplace of the musical instrument, the steel pan (a.k.a. steel drum). Ken “Professor” Philmore is one of the top steel-drum soloists in the world. His fascination with the steel pan began when he was only four years old. Ken is the third of five children and got his early introduction into pan through his cousins Ferdi and Barry Brathwaite.

In 1974 at age of fifteen, he joined Hatters Steel Orchestra in south Trinidad with the intention of developing his skills as a player. On one of his early visits, a member jokingly remarked “Who is this young kid with these old fashioned glasses?” Referring to his bone-rimmed spectacles, “He looks more like a “professor” than a pan player.” This is an alias which Ken proudly carries today and one that aptly suits this gifted musician. In his first year with Hatters, he was selected for a tour to Minneapolis, U.S.A.

One year later, Ken began experimenting with arrangements of tunes for the group. As time progressed, his talents as player and arranger were so impressive, that by 1982, he became musical director of one of the nation’s most prestigious steel orchestras.

Ken has performed and recorded with a number of international artists such as Tito Puente, Ella Fitzgerald, Phyllis Hyman, Nancy Wilson, Tina Turner, Andy Narell, Ralph MacDonald, George Howard, Lionel Hampton and the Duke Ellington Orchestra – along with Sarah Vaughn, Maria Carey, Freddie Jackson, George Benson and Bob James at Jazz Festivals worldwide. He has also performed at places such as Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York.

1989 was a memorable year for Ken “Professor” Philmore: he was honoured by steelpan association Pan Trinbago as the most outstanding musical arranger, while in New York he received a special award for his contribution to music by then-Mayor Koch.

On the 1990 album ‘Music is my Mistress,’ Ken was the featured soloist on the selection “Queenie Pie Reggae”. Outstanding live performances include: Washington DC Pan Jazz Festival, St. Croix Jazz Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival, Barbados Jazz Festivals, Tobago Jazz Festival, Guyana Music Festival and Boston Symphony Hall, among others.

Ken was privileged to be the first Trinidadian artist to be featured at B.E.T. Jazz Central, where he was interviewed by Vanessa Rubin and the legendary Lou Rawls. He finished this session with a scintillating performance before a live audience. The “Professor” is a musical giant in his homeland, the US and Europe. Apart from Trinidad, he has arranged music for steel bands in the United Kingdom and in New York – in fact Ken’s first opportunity as an arranger came in 1981 when he arranged for BWIA Sonatas in New York. He consequently captured six New York Panorama titles with Sonatas Steel Orchestra.

Ken also lectures at universities worldwide. Young panists and arrangers try to imitate his style. His impact on the pan arena has been nothing short of phenomenal and there are audiences yet to be exposed to his unique combination of dexterity and soothing runs on his “steel piano,” as he calls it.

Ken recorded his first album in 1985 with Pan Assembly and assisted Fonclaire Steel Orchestra in no small way in reaching a joint 6th place in the national Panorama with his arrangement of ‘Pan in ‘A’ Minor.’ This association with Fonclaire enabled the band to be joint winners in 1988 with Deltones, and to win the South Zone of Panorama for the next four years.

2011 was a memorable year for Ken. He was privileged to visit South Africa for the launch of their first Carnival, which was a great success. Shortly after, he was invited by the Government of Nigeria for their Carnival celebrations in Abuja. He continues to make his mark into new territory with visits to Japan, where he conducted a series of lectures and concerts.

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