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.
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.
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.
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.