Meet Earl Brooks Jr. - Performing Artist, Instructor, Arranger - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

When Steel Talks Exclusive icon

“The instrument is amazing as is; however, it’s the organizations and people of power that give it the wrong attention.” - Earl Brooks Jr.

The name “Brooks” resonates deep and loud in the world of Pan. There is the iconic Earl Brooks Sr., and his son Earl Brooks Jr. who has charted his own lane to greatness. Moreover Brooks Jr. has secured his props the old-fashioned way - he earned it.

With a touch as smooth as felt, like Muhammad Ali - he can float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, as he executes the most challenging of musical passages. Indeed, the thoughtful and forward-thinking Earl Brooks, Jr. through his experiences, musical excellence and competence, brings a lot to the table. And this bodes well for the next generation of steelpan musicians. Earl Brooks Jr. talks succinctly about his love for pan, his dad Earl Brooks, Sr., and more, in this exclusive When Steel Talks interview.

WST - “Tell us a little bit about Earl Brooks Jr.?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Born to Gail and Earl Sr. in April 1989. First documented performance was at age three (3) SWWTU Hall, Wrightson Road, Trinidad. Attended Music Makers directed by Merle Albino-de Coteau, Primary - St Joseph Boys RC; Secondary - Trinity College East, then Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA in summer of 2010.”

WST - “When and how did you first become associated with the steelpan instrument?”

Earl B. Jr. - “From inception, due to my father being one of the early steelpan pioneers and ambassadors of the culture.”

WST - “What was it like, growing up as the son of a man (Earl Brooks Sr.), considered by many, one of the best performers in pan?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Challenging, being overshadowed by so much greatness, so creating my own image was difficult. However, when I migrated to the US, I began self-reflecting and seeking mentorship. That’s when I noticed I love my father for what he has done, and is doing for, the culture.”

WST - “You are a panist, instructor, artist and arranger. Is there preference among these disciplines for you?”

Earl B. Jr. - “To be honest I’d say being an artist. I’m able to create freely and convey my emotions through my art.”

Earl Brooks Jr.
Earl Brooks Jr.

WST - “What keeps your passion for the instrument and music going?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The desire to see the instrument respected in multiple forums and my passion for music comes from my passion for the instrument.”

WST - “If you had the power to change something in Pan immediately, what would that be?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The instrument is amazing as is; however, it’s the organizations and people of power that give it the wrong attention.”

WST - “What have you been most proud about as it relates to Pan?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The increasing number of people, becoming aware of the instrument, as well as taking a liking to the art form.”

WST - “What disappoints you the most in the steelband movement?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Everything.”

WST - “What would be your advice to the thousands of young panists all over the world who are dreaming of following in footsteps such as yours?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Ignore the noise, focus on evolving. There is no limit to your craft, only the ones people instruct you to instill.”

WST - “You play the pan. Are there any other instruments you play?”

Earl B. Jr. - “I play the drum set, marimba, piano and some “hand” percussion.”

WST - “Do you have a favorite/preferred “voice” of pan to play? Tenor, Doubles Seconds, Quads, etc.?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Quadraphonics.”

WST - “Who, and what are your musical influences?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Some names to mention are Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Michel Camilo, Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder, Raymond Anger, Corey Henry, Christian Scott, Jay Cole, Jay Dilla, Derrick Hodge, Chris Dave, Marcus Miller, Joe Cleaveland, Jacob Collier. The use of harmonic structure, tensions and polyrhythms.”

WST - “What is your most memorable experience in Pan?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Too many to mention with my many years of experience and I am thankful for every one of them.”

WST - “What is Panorama to you?”

Earl B. Jr. - “In my humble opinion it’s a failing business as it is currently.”

Earl Brooks Jr.
Earl Brooks Jr.

WST - “Is Panorama a curse or blessing from your perspective?”

Earl B. Jr. - “It is a balance of both.”

WST - “Describe your academic experience at Berklee College of Music?”

Earl B. Jr. - “At first it was discouraging and challenging but then it became motivating and elevating.”

WST - “What do you think about the overall changes implemented into Panorama 2020?”

Earl B. Jr. - “It was commendable.”

WST - “What is the greatest challenge the steelband music art form faces in Trinidad & Tobago today, in your opinion?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The greatest challenge is accountability.”

WST - “You have traveled around the world with pan as your focus. What have you learnt from these experiences? And did any of them stand out?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Travelling the world as a musician, I’ve learnt that music is a language that is continually evolving. I’ve been introduced to many cultures and traditions, and gained so much knowledge and great friends along the way.”

WST - “What is your vision for the steelpan instrument?”

Earl B. Jr. - “For Pan to be respected as an instrument and not just noise and pay day for some.”

WST - “The Steelpan music art form is obviously a major part of your life. What are your personal expectations or dreams with you and pan in the near future?”

Earl B. Jr. - “My baby, Brooks Art Academy was created in February 2020 and will be launched online soon. It is a safe haven for underdeveloped and underprivileged youths. They will learn music and percussion through the steelpan art form whilst learning the cultures and traditions of the Caribbean Diaspora.”

WST - “What do you know now, you wish you had known years ago?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Health is wealth and music is a language.”

WST - “What made you select “Thriller” as your final night performance at the PanoGrama competition, where you triumphed?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The song was instrumental in the package of a full showcase.”

WST - “What’s it like not having a live audience during the competition?”

Earl B. Jr. - “There was no difference as my main focus was on the performance and entertaining.”

  Earl Brooks Jr. performs at the semifinal of the PanoGrama - “Sir Duke”

WST - “Were there any technological challenges/concerns encountered at any point, regarding delivering your best possible presentation during the different phases of the competition? And were there any lessons learned?”

Earl B. Jr. - “There were no challenges on my end but I’ve learnt ways of experimenting with audio from the competition.”

WST - “Do you foresee larger groups participating in a PanoGrama-type format?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Yes, most definitely.”

WST - “You and your father have a unique rolling style. Did Earl Sr. teach you the technique or did you pick it up by ear?”

Earl B. Jr. - “My father has a unique style of playing and I have always wanted to hold my own with my father even at a young age, so I focused on emulating his approach towards the instrument.”

WST - “You arranged with your dad for Hatters Steel Orchestra for Panorama 2020. Talk about the process of co-arranging with him?”

Earl B. Jr. - “I produced the template and while arranging I was blessed to have my father’s ear for guidance. He made it clear if he didn’t like something and suggested changes respectfully.”

WST - “Can you contrast learning music at Berklee vs. learning in a panyard?”

Earl B. Jr. - “The difference is at Berklee you are being educated whilst in most pan yards you’re being instructed.”

Earl Brooks Jr.
Earl Brooks Jr.

WST - “How has the pandemic affected your approach to the business of music?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Dramatically, as steelpan is considered an interactive activity.”

WST - “How has COVID-19 affected you and the pan community?”

Earl B. Jr. - “It has prohibited a lot of scheduled performances and events. Not to mention the ability to rehearse or have a musician jam.”

WST - “Are there any other steelband-related matters you would like to bring forward?”

Earl B. Jr. - “Creating a union, and having a standard level of professionalism, are the two I would suggest.”

WST - “What is next for Earl Brooks Jr.?”

Earl B. Jr. - “As mentioned earlier, online launch of school, release of my debut project and living through entrepreneurship.”

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photos provided by Earl Brooks Jr.

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