Archives for October 2010

Rhythm Road Central American Tour 2010 – Suriname

Concert at the Ambassador's residence featuring the young, Surinamese up-and-coming jazz musicians

This is our second country on the tour and the first time I’ve ever been to South America.  We only have 3 days here but 6 events so I know we’re going to be a lot busier than we were in Trinidad.  The entire population of Suriname is just under 500,000 people and I’m thinking that Queens alone has about 3.5 million so I’m thinking about how things work here.  Turns out that Suriname is massively ethnically diverse just like Queens with lots of spoken languages and influences.  Most everyone speaks English or Dutch (as it’s a former Dutch colony and the country is formerly known as Dutch Guinana) and Dutch is the official language but there is another language that’s home here and that is Sranan-Tongo.  It seems to be a mix of English, Dutch, and African languages and is only spoken in Suriname.  90% of the population lives on the northern coast (about 20% of the land mass of the country) and the rest of Suriname is jungle which they call “the interior”.  Much of the Black population that live in the interior are descendants of former escaped slaves, the Maroons, and have kept their pre-colonial African culture intact.  As badly as I wanted to go to “the interior” I knew there wouldn’t be enough time so I was on the lookout for anything that could represent that experience.

mosque and synagogue right next to each other living side-by-side

We left the International airport at about 1:30am or so and arrived at our hotel in Paramaribo by 2:30am.  Sleep was definitely in order as our press conference was scheduled for 1pm and we would have a briefing at the U.S. embassy beforehand with the U.S. Ambassador, John R. Nay, and some of his staff.  After a few hours of sleep we were ready for our briefing and to see a little of Paramaribo.  There are so many cultures living side-by-side here it’s amazing.  Ethnically I believe the largest populations are West African, East Indian, Chinese, Javanese, Lebanese, and Dutch.  We all took pictures of a synagogue and a mosque that are right next to each other with no apparent tension between the two religions.  There are Christians, Hindu, and Buddhists here as well along with several traditional African and Amerindian religions.  The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission, Susan Bell, are both amazing people with a love for Suriname, it’s people and history and we have a great conversation as we also talk about the upcoming press conference, workshops, and concerts.  I find out in the Ambassador’s office that Tim Armacost’s father, Michael Armacost, was the U.S. Ambassador to Japan for 4 years and U.S. Ambassador to the Phillippines for 3 years in the ’80s.  I knew his father worked for the State Department but I didn’t know exactly in what capacity.  I’ve known Tim for 8 years and I have to come to Suriname with him to find that out!  That’s also the fun part of traveling.  It’s like suddenly meeting an old friend of yours out of the blue in a hotel lobby in Europe.  :)

The press conference is hosted at a local jazz club/restaurant.  There wasn’t many people there but it was attended by the biggest newspaper in town “De Ware Tijd” and they asked questions, took pictures, and it was in the paper the next day.  Here’s a short video clip of Tim and Tony giving them a taste of the upcoming concerts.  Just afterward we are treated to a lunch at the restaurant.  They prepare a special dish called ‘”grit bana” meaning grated banana.  In cooking it’s banana, cassava soup with chicken, beef, and dumplings, and coconut milk mixed together but the significance of the dish is the coming together of the two worlds – the African and the Dutch.  Aside from it being a great dish to eat, it is their way of welcoming us to Suriname!

We had a short break before we headed off to our first workshop with younger music students (mostly 10-19 years old) with many music teachers in attendance and we find we can speak English in the workshop.  The students are surprisingly good!!!  There are different levels of skill but they have the spirit and were relatively fearless when it came to trying new things and going for it.  Some of the older students are in their early 20s and some of them are the local teachers.  I am surprised at their level of skill and hunger for knowledge seems to be insatiable.  We couldn’t give them enough information and they didn’t want the workshop to end.  We received a standing ovation at the end and were able to leave them with some ideas, things to work on, a list of great musicians and records to listen to, and tunes that they should know to be able to sit-in with anyone and play jazz anywhere in the world.

The large Parbo's were a little too big. 🙂

We are humbled by their desire to learn but we’re also exhausted.  We have dinner near the hotel and start our on-going beer taste contest.  We loved the “Carib” beer in Trinidad and the big local beer here is “Parbo”.  Along with dinner I order a small Parbo and Tim and Tony order a large.  The small is 330 mL but the large turns out to be a 1000mL bottle and yes we had to share and it took some work to finish it all!

The next day we have a workshop at the Ambassador’s residence and a concert later on.  This workshop is for more advanced teachers and players so we do a masterclass instead and focus more on them.  We meet and hear more knowledge-hungry musicians and classical players (and conductors).  The vibe is great and there’s a crew of young jazz musicians that are a tight-knit group that talk to each other and play together frequently.  Again we are humbled by their intensity of how much they want to learn.  At the end they teach us a popular song in Suriname “Maria”.  To close we play our version of it to a standing ovation and invite the players to attend our concert that night and the following night.

The concert at the Ambassador’s residence is totally packed.  It’s a great feeling to play for a packed, appreciative audience.  We do two sets and on the last song “Maria” feature some of the musicians who played with us at the workshop who continue to surprise us with some great playing.  After another standing-O (I’m enjoying this) there’s plenty of smiles, hand-shaking, hugs, and conversation to go around and again more questions from the local musicians.

It’s now our last day and we find out that we can hear a great Suriname drumming ensemble, Ala Kondre, after our soundcheck and radio interview for a our final concert in Suriname.  Soundcheck goes well and we answer some questions and do 3 songs for the radio show.

Some members of Ala Kondre just arriving before the demonstration/session

The Ala Kondre Dron Ensemble (“All Countries Drum Ensemble”) is a very special group not just for Suriname but they seem to have a world-wide reputation.  It was started in 1971 by a man named Henk Tjon who had a vision to invite all the drumming styles of the different ethnic groups of Suriname and play together as one group.  Please, take a few minutes to view this video about Henk Tjon, one of the greatest cultural ambassadors of Suriname.  The concept is to celebrate different cultures working together and create something new.  The 6 cultures they have represented are: East Indian, Amerindian, African/Maroon, Creole, Lebanese, and Javanese.  For the ensemble they were able to gather for us there were 2-3 percussionists representing each cultural group.  When they start a piece you can hear that there are 6 distinct rhythmic traditions playing together at the same time, and it works!  Myself having a background in percussion I have never seen nor heard anything quite like this before.  After playing all together for a short while they break down into solo sections where one distinct drumming style will ‘solo’ and lead the group.  When the 2-3 percussionists representing their style are finished with their ‘solo’ the whole group comes back in again in a refrain.  After each group has had a chance to lead or ‘solo’ the whole ensemble plays again and finishes the piece.  It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture so here’s a video clip of what Ala Kondre played for us.  What we saw is a smaller version of the ensemble as they can have up to 90 percussionists at the same time with the group plus dancers!  On their 25th anniversary of being together they had a show featuring over 400 performers play or dance over a period of several hours!  Again I’m wondering if Jazz At Lincoln Center has ever heard of this group or how often they travel to the United States.  Seeing and hearing this group is an experience I am going to remember for a long time, most likely for the rest of my life.  We attempt some musical collaboration with them as Tim Armacost pulls out his saxophone, Tony Jefferson plays some New Orleans-style snare drum, and I play on a djembe-like hand drum.  We all get into a group groove, each takes turns soloing, then take it out together with a transformed version of the group groove we started with.  Here’s a short clip of Pathways with Ala Kondre.

with PD officer Erik Anderson after the last show

Our final concert in Suriname is sold out and since we’d like to invite more people between the jazz students and the Ala Kondre percussionists we figure out a way how to print more tickets and add more seats.  The 450-seat ballroom is nearly filed to capacity.  We’re excited to do the show as the Ambassador is present, many dignitaries of the Surinamese government, and a room full of people excited about what they are about to hear.  Our first set goes fantastic doing mostly tunes off the new CD and I don’t mind getting a short break before going into our last set.  I dedicate the last set to folk music and among other songs we play my arrangement of a Haitian field song, “Dlo”, our bass-and-drum version of the Jamaican folk song “Brown Skin Girl”, our jazz version of “Frere Jacques/Brother John”, and then invite some of the Suriname jazz players and students to join us in a version of “Maria” which everyone in the room knows.  Again a standing ovation and this time also a request for an encore.  After doing so many arrangements I want to keep it simple and just play.  We end the concert with a Pathways jam session version of Thelonius Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning”.  Another standing ovation and bows.  Everybody is happy and people stay for almost a full hour afterward talking, taking pictures, exchanging emails, signing autographs, hugs, handshakes, and smiles.  What an action-packed three days!  We have a rest day coming up in Miami before we head out to Nicaragua.  We leave the hotel in Paramaribo at 3am to catch the only flight out to Miami that leaves at 6:15am.  I make a note to call my friend, great young jazz pianist in New York, Donald Vega, who is from Masaya, Nicaragua, 30 minutes away from Managua which is our next city on the Rhythm Road tour.  But for now, we have a rest day in Miami, we’re gonna need it!


p.s. use this link for more pictures of Paul Beaudry & Pathways in Suriname

p.p.s. our pianist, Bennett Paster, is also keeping a blog


Rhythm Road Central American Tour 2010 – Trinidad

Queen's Hall in Port Of Spain, Trinidad - our first concert of the tour

This is the first international tour for Paul Beaudry & Pathways!  This tour is a part of The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program co-sponsored by Jazz At Lincoln Center and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  First off I’m really happy with this band (Tony Jefferson – drums and vocals, Tim Armacost – sax and flute, Bennett Paster – piano, me – bass and vocals) and the band members are some of my favorite people as well as being excellent players and teachers.  After a long day of traveling from New York to Trinidad with a layover in Miami on Wednesday Sept 29th we arrived in Port Of Spain, Trinidad and our Public Affairs Specialist, Alice Borrell, and driver, Jesse James, immediately made us feel at home.  We were excited to embark on our Central and South American tour but definitely ready for some sleep when Jesse’s van pulls up to the hotel and we meet some jazz musicians who just finished a gig there!  The piano player, Clive ‘Zanga’ Alexander, turns out to be a Trinidad musical icon and we exchange information.  We find out that the musicians in town knew we were coming and they are planning a party/gathering for us later in the week.  Then the band’s drummer walks up and it turns out to be an old friend of mine that I met in Boston, Sean Thomas!  He was in the Thelonious Monk Institute which was hosted at New England Conservatory at the same time I was at Berklee College of Music in the late ’90s.  I haven’t seen Sean in about 10 years, he’s a great drummer and plays steel pans as well.  I had no idea he was living in Trinidad.

Steel pans (or steel drums) were invented in Trinidad so this is their homeland.  Every year around Carnival time (two days before Ash Wednesday, generally mid-February or early March) they host the huge Panorama festival and steel drum bands from all over participate and compete.  I was a drummer in high school myself and my main drum teacher, Jim Munzenrider, was a student of the famous jazz-steel pan player, Andy Narell.  Jim organized a 20-piece local steel pan group in the San Francisco Bay Area that I played with on occasion as a teenager.  I remember looking forward to the new Panorama CDs that came out each year after the festival.  Some bands were small but the pan orchestras could have up to 80 players or more!!!  The smaller pans were like sopranos or the first violins and the huge bass pans (oil drums where the top of the drum was tuned to have 3 or 4 notes) were like the double-basses or even the timpani.  I encourage everyone just to experience the sound of a steel pan orchestra – there’s nothing like it!

Before our first concert for the Patrons of Queen’s Hall there was a reception with Ambassador Beatrice Welters (U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad) and a number of other dignitaries, patrons, and esteemed local musicians.  The concert at Queen’s Hall was a one-set, 2-hour show for about 300 people and we received a standing ovation at the end.  On our last song we featured Sean Thomas on drums, Tony singing and Tim and I also joining in on some vocal scat over a blues.  That was a marathon for our first concert but we were happy because people loved it and we were glad to be doing out first show for the tour together.

Bake And Shark Menu, Maracas Beach (p.s. $30 TT = $5 US)

The following day we had a chance to see a little bit of Trinidad and our saxophone player, Tim Armacost, golf nut that he is hit the golf course while to rest of us hit the beach and took a short tour of Port Of Spain.  Near the Maracas beach area Jesse took us to an amazing legendary local food spot ‘Bake & Shark’ that had the best fried shark in a bun that I’ve ever tried!  The water was incredibly warm and although we weren’t there for long we were all happy to get a piece of it before we headed back the to hotel.

Zanga and his band at Satchmo's

We were invited to a dinner that night at a jazz restaurant called Satchmo’s which featured food and drink named after famous jazz musicians and a decor recalling a 1920s jazz spot in New Orleans.  We had dinner with Zanga, Sean Thomas, and a few others while an opening jazz band played.  Zanga’s band later took the stage and played some of the best Caribbean Jazz I have ever heard.  After about 4 tunes we joined them with Tim sitting in on sax, Bennett on piano, Sean on drums, Tony singing, and myself on bass.  We played a couple tunes before Zanga came back to the piano and we finished the night with 2 more songs with Zanga.  One was a local Trini folk tune that Zanga taught us on the spot.  It was a magical night.  I’m going to try to bring Zanga and his band to J@LC.  People need to hear what he is doing with his flavor of Jazz from Trinidad.  Using soca and calypso rhythms with the steel pan and great playing and arrangements I am super impressed with this band.

Our early scheduled workshop the next day was canceled due to a water pipe that burst which flooded the room we were going to use so they redirected all the students to our second scheduled workshop at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.  The huge building where the workshop was held is a new multi-million dollar facility dedicated to the arts and is absolutely beautiful!  After doing a soundcheck our driver, Jesse, highly recommended a place that has some excellent roti (I had a goat roti – amazing, I need another one next time I’m in Brooklyn).  I was kind of in a hurry and wasn’t sure if I could finish mine but Alice and Jesse insisted saying a local Trini line that’s so far my favorite quote of the tour – “Better man belly buss dan good food waste”.  We all had a good laugh and yes I did finish.

UTT jazz studies director, Dave Marcellin, with Pathways and Alice Borrell

About 100 people came to the workshop with about 30 being musicians, many wanting to play with us.  We started the workshop playing and explaining the basics of what we do (here’s a short video) then turned it into a masterclass featuring the students and local professionals.  Split up among 4 ensembles we were able to have about 25 musicians play during the course of the masterclass and give constructive feedback on their playing.  It was great to hear them learn on the spot from some of our observations and hear some of them sound better right away after a little bit of feedback and a push to go for it.  We ended with the local Trini song we had just learned the night before and got a standing ovation.  The local teachers present and musicians were so thankful for our playing, information, spirit, and care about their development.  I certainly hope to return as they were really happy with what we did and we would love to come back.

We had half a day to get ready for our next stop.  We said goodbye to the local players again who came to the hotel before we left and got ready for another experience.  We will arrive in Suriname after midnight, check into the hotel, sleep for a little bit then head to an afternoon press conference before doing another workshop – all in one day.  It’s going to be a long one but Suriname, here we come!

Here’s some more pics from Pathways in Trinidad.