The Chantal Esdelle Caribbean Jazz Corner

Notes, Commentary, Updates on Caribbean Jazz, musicians, recordings, projects, and events.

Sounds like… (Dean Williams @ Blue Culture’s Jazz Quarters) July 4, 2012

   Beautiful people on stage and in the audience, that was my first thought as I entered Casa de Ibiza last night.  Guitarist Dean Williams and the three young men, Rodney Alexander (bass), Alpha Simpson (drums), Anthony Woodroffe (sax) were definitely worth a second look, while the music, played to a young, attractive, progressive-looking, mature-looking audience, made me not just take a second look but also a closer listen.  As I did, I found myself thinking, “this sounds like Stevie Wonder”, “this sounds like Marcus Miller”, “this sounds like Steve Coleman”, “this sounds like the horn lines from Etienne Charles’ Douens”, “this reminds me of Omar Hakim”, “that calypso soca groove sounds like Kid Creole”.  These references were not necessarily a good or a bad thing, simply and interesting one.

In the first set these musical styles and references were more apparent since Dean presented standard material first and they actually played Stevie’s “Isn’t she lovely” into John Legend’s “Ordinary People”, followed by Ralph MacDonald’s “Just the two of us”, and ended with Gershwin’s “Summertime”. They played all of these in Funk/R&B style so it would be hard to navigate away from the style of drummers like Hakim, bassists like Miller and guitarists like Benson who have defined that style of improv for decades, or to resist quoting themes from popular songs like Maniac from Flashdance.  So they stayed close to the flight plan and did a good job of it.  The problem, though, was balance.  Bass, drums and guitar is a hard rhythm section format.  The middle/chords/colour that we get from an extra guitar or keys can easily be and, in this case for me, was missed.  I tried to figure out why, since this is not a new combination, Theron Shaw, Douglas Redon, and Sean Thomas did it quite successfully in their group Three in One. I settled on a few possibilities.  Maybe the bass took up too much and the guitar took up too little of a presence in the mix, maybe the obvious skill gained by the drummer and bassist from study and transcriptions should now be harnessed into thinking well about establishing a smoother and less static underlying groove when playing together in this combination.  Anthony’s solos on sax and his and Dean’s singing on Just the two of us and Summertime, respectively, took my attention away from the thinking and allowed me to enjoy the last two pieces in this set.

After the break during which I had a taste of some pretty good chicken, we were treated to originals.  Dean let us know that they were his originals re-arranged by Jesse Ryan.  Jesse joined Anthony in the sax section for the second set.  The additional sax made a marked difference to the sound.  Perhaps the background lines and solos gave Dean a chance to fill in the middle.  Whatever it was it did change things.  Although most of the originals were clearly built around familiar musical examples; Dean’s song for his daughter, was reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s song for his daughter (Isn’t she lovely) in several respects, the horn lines in Tanzania were a bit too close to the ones Etienne wrote for his original Douens, and the Kid Creaole take used to establish the groove for Dean’s Caribbean inspired piece was a bit shaky (timewise);  I was glad to have them.  I was glad to have them because I could feel the enjoyment and excitement that the group and the audience felt in experiencing them.  Rodney and Alpha had a really good time with their solos in this half, especially in the last piece, Super Speed, and I really appreciated their approach to playing with the time.

All in all it is clear that these musicians are listening and transcribing and I believe that they will come more and more into their own.  They also have a really nice audience to grow with.

Modupe Onilu and his group are on next week at Blue Culture’s Jazz Quarters, Ibiza, Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain, Tuesday 10th July, 9pm.


October, more than just a good month November 1, 2010

Personal commentary on a few jazz projects and events in Trinidad and Tobago by jazz musician and activist Chantal Esdelle. Sound Connection 2010, Playing solo at Ibiza and seeing Ruth, Keisha Codrington and the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival

Chantal Esdelle

October was both an artistically productive and personally enriching month for me.  Being a believer, I’m thankful to God for this.  I was able to get the Sound Connection 2010 recording project to happen and through it record my jazz group Moyenne’s second album, record Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, and record John Arnold and the Kariwak Players.  On the performance side of things Moyenne had a good run at the Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival, and I got to do some solo work at a cabaret-style gig.  I also celebrated five years of marriage (eight years in the relationship), and the birthdays of several family members.

Sound, solid, supportive, long standing relationships made all of this possible.

Sound Connection 2010

The Sound Connection Project was the biggest example of the significance of these relationships.  A seven-year relationship with Alexis Vazquez’ team in Cuba proved to be a platform on which an easy sibling-like relationship materialized between me and the audio engineers from MUSICUBA-EGREM.  Fito, Luis and Reinier did not just come and work for me, they worked with me on the project.  Victor and his team from Audio Works went all out to make sure we had the equipment we needed.  Marsha Pearce’s input was evidence that old friends are like gold, especially when they’re intelligent, sharp, and resourceful. Judith did not give up and Briana lent her support willingly.  All the while Robert drove around, stocked the green room, got coffee and, just generally made our residence at CLR James Auditorium a comfortable one.

Moyenne was magnificent.  The process of preparing for our recording during Sound Connection made me notice, yet again, that these musicians value their relationship with me.  Kevin, Junior, Dougie, and Darren, showed up, in every sense of the word, for rehearsals, for the recordings, with their compositions….playing with them is always a joy and a blessing.

Playing solo at Ibiza and seeing Ruth

Early in the month Moyenne got an offer to share a cabaret gig with Ruth Osman and her group (not sure if the billing is still Ruth Osman and Jacoustic).  It seemed like too much for too little.  So Moyenne decided to let Ruth do the gig I would just do a few solo pieces on the night.  It was wonderful seeing Ruth’s crew, Anton, Marva, and James, play because I know them all and I know that their deciding to play and finding a place to do it was no easy feat, plus they did it well.   The gig was cool for me too.  I got to play jazz and calypso standards that the audience enjoyed and James gave me some excellent support on the congas.  A few people were like, wow, you can really play.  That felt odd, you mean they didn’t notice I could play before that?  Perhaps more solo playing is needed.

Keisha Codrington and The Trinidad and TobagoSteelpan and Jazz Festival

Ricky joined Moyenne for this gig since Darren was in Toronto.  It was sweet.  You know what I loved….that I played my first instrument, the piano, not a weighted Yamaha or Roland keyboard, but a grand piano.  It makes such a difference to the music.  Cesar Lopez and the Habana Ensemble followed.  They were phenomenal.  Wow, would be a sufficient critique of their work.  Then Cesar introduced a young woman he first met when she was eight, he found her a significant musician then, and so was pleased to have her perform with them now, at age sixteen.  He introduced Keisha.  I thought, we’ve all been hearing her make magic on the steelpans since she was eight and she continues to get better and better.  She was patient and thoughtful in her performance, leaving room and taking room demonstrating her skill and as Natasha put it, her ear.  As usual I wish her and the Codrington Pan Family nothing but the best.


No projects, at least not big ones.  I’ll finally collect my bound thesis, its been ready since early this year.  Perhaps I’ll have a quiet month reading it and figuring out how to turn it into a book……….


Names that weren’t spelt out fully in the article

Fito (Adolfo Martinez Rodriguez), Luis Gonzalez Duran,  Reinier Lopez Gonzalez, Victor Donawa, Marsha Pearce, Robert Young,  Judith Marchan, Brianna McCarthy, Kevin Sobers (steelpans in Moyenne), Junior Noel (percussion in Moyenne), Douglas Redon (bass in Moyenne), Darren Sheppard (drums, in Moyene) Ruth Osman, Anton Ricardo, Marva Newton, James Fenton, Ricardo Ruiz (drums in Moyenne), Natasha Joseph (leading steelpan player and arranger) 


Perfect Timing September 5, 2010

Anton Doyle (left) of Production One Ltd. was happy to hear all about the project and meet up with an old friend, Christopher Cozier (right)

The Ethnic Jazz Club’s Sound Connection project for 2010 is moving along well.  The thing that has been most encouraging for me, since our launch on August 19th, is the response.  Since the launch I have shared with several people how the Sound Connection project’s service of allowing for the quality recording of live instruments performed simultaneously may be seen as the best way to capture Caribbean music, especially since it is the interaction of musicians and participants that has contributed most to the creation and development of our universally acclaimed musics.  Throughout our meetings in north and south Trinidad, my conversations with John Arnold in Tobago, my colleague Kevin Sobers’ interaction with musicians in central, and a few individual consultations, the same sentiment has been expressed; we need this and we are ready to be a part of it.  In the middle of all of this, though, there was some anxiety.  Questions about whether enough time was given to source funding, to prepare recorded material, to liase with the Cubans, to get the technical equipment, to rent the hall, all seemed to intimidate a few people and lead them ask the question; is this the right time for the project?

My immediate response to this, and some people’s instinctive understanding, is that once you have been preparing for shows and have a working repertoire that you have been performing you are ready to record.  The danger is, perhaps, to wait.  A recording, after all, is a representation of your music and your group at one point in time.  If Miles waited too long to record with Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers and Cannonball, he would have essentially missed the opportunity to record with that group since they moved on to form their own configurations.  Caribbean examples can be found in Sparrow’s early Troubadors of the sixties where a wait would have cheated us of hearing Earl Rodney, Señor Ruiz, Roy Cape, and Oxley on the same albums, in Chucho Valdez’ Irakere where a wait would have cheated us of having icons like him Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Riviera on the same album, and countless configurations of Caribbean jazz orchestras by Luther Francois would not be evidenced through the miracle of the sound record.  This is all because people move, dissolve relationships, and sometimes even die.  It is my understanding that if you have a product now you have to move as though you’re going to record now.  We did that for my group Moyenne’s first album.  We decided at the end of May and by the end of August we were out of Caribbean Sound Basin (one of the top recording facilities in the world at the time), after just a day and half of playing and three of mixing, with an album.  The magic there was that we did not start with the question of capital but rather with the reality of people and the magic of music.

On the practical side The Ethnic Jazz Club has been conferring with the Cuban team from EGREM/CUBADISCO on the best possible recording process for the format of Sound Connection since the beginning of this year, the auditorium has been booked, our technical liason Victor Donawa has gotten the preliminary list of equipment requirements and a scouting visit has been scheduled for the end of September to ensure everything is in place.  All this just to say that it is always the right time to make music, to record it and to show that you value your work, and to have others value it too.  It is also always to the right time to work together in our Caribbean region.  The EJC’s interaction with the Institute of Cuban music first resulted with the EJC presenting grammy nominated Cuban artist Bellita y Jazz tumbata in their first peformance in Trinidad and Tobago, and first presenting the winners of Jo Jazz in Trinidad as well.  The EJC has encouraged this interaction with the Cuban administrators and this has led to Production One Ltd. following suit by presenting Bellita twice since then and including a Jo Jazz team in a couple editions of their jazz presentations.

Since it is always the right time to record and to bring the Caribbean together Sound Connection is not a “one off” project.  The EJC will offer the service again and again.  If you aren’t able to record in this first run the next one is scheduled for April 2011.  So keep in touch and cast an occasional eye on my blog.  The recording sessions for Sound Connection will be held from October 11th-18th, 2010 at The CLR James auditorium at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-opreative studies.  The public will be invited to view some of the sessions.  See you there!

Chantal Esdelle


A Jazz Spot… June 16, 2010

A note about Jazz & Fusion Tuesdays at La Casa de Ibiza, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and the performance by Michael Germain and Destino Jazz on Tuesday 15th June 2010.

Michael Germain and Fred Absalom of Destino Jazz

Well maybe not just jazz.  Poetry, rock, alternative, calypso, anything live, could easily be found in the Casa de Ibiza’s weekly line up.  The Jazz Fusion Tuesdays, however, have been constant and consistent since February 2010.  The weekly showcase has featured familiar local Trinidadian jazz and fusion groups like Michael Boothman and friends, the Tabanca Blues Band, saxophonist Anthony Woodroffe, Raphael (Russell Durity, Winston Mathew, Wayne Guerra), Moyenne (Chantal Esdelle, Glenford Sobers, Douglas Redon, Donald Noel), vocalists Brenda Butler and Kay Alleyne backed by the likes of Ming, and newer additions to the jazz scene like Blue Culture, Mikhail Salcedo, and Dean Williams. The people who somehow have found out about the event and continue to get information about the line up are slowly beginning to trust that if they want jazz they can find it at Ibiza on Tragarete Road in Port-of-Spain, albeit on a Tuesday night.

Bassist Michael Germain trusted the strength of the Ibiza gig’s regularity when he arranged for his group, Destino Jazz, to perform this past Tuesday 15th June.  Germain, having served as a perennial side musician for several musicians, most recently Ray Holman and Anne Fridal, formed the group to explore performing and arranging material that interested him.  His group of long-time members of the Trinidadian music scene; Patrick Johnson (keys), Andre Wallace (guitar), Vonrick Mayneard (drums), Billy Wong (percussion, Fred Absalom (sax), and vocalist Naomi, performed some such pieces ranging from Miles Davis’ All Blues to Jobim’s Chega de Saudade to Sade’s Smooth Operator.  Although the performance was not as tight nor the sound and role of each instrument as clear as, I’m sure, the musicians wished it could be, the audience was appreciative of the performance and remained engaged by the groove established by the congas and the bass.  The small audience of a few fellow musicians and close friends created an atmosphere that allowed the band to perform well.

Musicians, however, cannot, or rather, should not have to settle for appreciation and good vibes alone, we sometimes require money.  This last requirement is not usually fulfilled on the jazz night at Ibiza.  Occasionally younger artists like Blue Culture, Tony Woodroffe, and Kern Summerville seem to get a large enough audience to give themselves a reasonable honorarium but generally the Ibiza gig is not a financially rewarding one, especially for a six piece band.  This is not surprising since slim returns are usual and even expected by the musicians who perform in and the organizers of on-going jazz gigs in Trinidad and Tobago.  I speak from experience, having organized the Thursday night Jazz and Wine gig at the Kapok hotel for just over two years.  What the organizers of the Ibiza gig, Karl Doyle and Jean Marc Aimey, have managed to provide is a spot, a jazz spot for all musicians, albeit on a hard Tuesday night.  I wonder if it would be any different on a Friday?…


It was a “good” night June 7, 2010

Chantal Esdelle

Chantal Esdelle

Theron Shaw

Personal note about our (Chantal Esdelle and Moyenne) performance with Theron Shaw on Sunday 6th June 2010

First of all I should start by acknowledging that it is almost impossible for a musician to be totally satisfied with her performance or, for that matter, be even mildly pleased.   So for me to notice during and after a performance that my playing has improved and that my approach to improvisation has matured is quite significant.  This awareness was the highlight for me at Moyenne’s performance this past Sunday 6th June 2010 at the Carlton Savannah because this simple act of appreciating where I am and what I do, with the added elements of several rehearsals and a regular practice schedule, allowed me to enjoy the experience of creating and sharing my music.

The process of sharing began in our Moyenne rehearsals.  The members of Moyenne all signed on to this first concert in the Caribbean Jazz Festival series by giving their time, and resource, which included facilitating access to sound equipment at a ridiculously affordable rate.  Our guest, guitarist Theron Shaw, was just as supportive of the effort and committed to working on the music.  I feel that this all came through in our presentation, especially since we played original music from Terry’s and Moyenne’s independently produced albums.

Producing a concert for yourself or your group, even a cabaret style one, is never easy for an artist; the task should really be handled by someone else.  Sometimes though you have to do it to keep your chops up, keep your music out, and keep your name out there.  So, despite having to be the liaison with the Carlton Savannah food and beverage staff and electrical engineer moments before the show to rectify the blown lights and need for more chairs, the experience is still a rewarding one when you notice that the audience had a good time (evidenced not only by comments but CD sales), people are appreciative of the venue, the venue is appreciative of the business, and you were able to get some recognition and more work.

Kevin Sobers

Douglas Redon

Darren Sheppard


Lights Out, Love and Connection In… June 5, 2010


Live music is available most nights in most metropolitan spaces.  It seems to be a necessary part of existence in the tight confines of urban spaces.  This is no different for the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, Port-of-Spain.  Last Thursday night I was, therefore, easily able to find a spot within walking distance from my family’s place in Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain that offered live  jazz and poetry.  The offering was put together by Toronto based poet Amani at Drink Wine Bar.  She called the presentation Jazzetry.

I got there in time to catch the last five pieces of Guyanese born vocalist Ruth Osmon.  She sings with a microphone but, for the most part, her sound is acoustic, so much so that her group is called Jacoustik.  Her usual team of Mava Newton on guitar and James Fenton on percussion was altered slightly.  James was not there.  I missed the percussion but Jeanine Xavier more than made up for it with her violin.  Ruth engaged us in her performance by sharing anecdotes and asking questions.  Her theme seemed to be love and this message was delivered in a predominantly R&B style.  The theme, style of music, mid-range tone and moderate tempo stayed the same throughout Ruth’s performance and did not change when the star act, Amani came on with guitarist Theron Shaw and live beat box artist Sterling Kent a.k.a Gamma Ghost.

Then something happened that seemed to bring us all in, “current went” i.e. there was a black out.  It is amazing how that really sharpened the senses of both the performers and the audience.  I was reminded of a Christmas carol service I sang at with my school choir.  The same thing happened and the voices and harmony became magical.  This performance may not have turned into a fairy tale but the audience immediately became more involved.  We sang along with Terry’s rendition of Sparrow’s “No money, No Love”, took part enthusiastically in the call and response of Gamma Ghost’s “One Love” and suggested that Amani use the theme “current gone” for her exposition of free styling with poetry.

In the darkness we found community, we became involved and connected.  We were reminded of how important music is to our being as one of the major means of maintaining sanity and connection.  We were reminded that we need it, maybe not more than, but just like food.


Hanging with Happy May 29, 2010

Filed under: Caribbean Jazz,David "Happy" Williams,Jazz in Trinidad and Tobago — chantalesdelle @ 12:04 pm

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing David Happy Williams for my radio programme, The Chantal Esdelle Caribbean Jazz Hour (streamed live www.100.5wmjxfm Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon).  The following is a piece inspired by my chat with this exceptional, long-standing, sought after bass player.

Jazz bassist David “Happy” Williams was born in Trinidad.  He grew up in an environment that sent a clear message that music was a part of life, heritage, and identity.  His father was the legendary calypso band leader John “Buddy” Williams who also played for another national icon, dancer Beryl McBurnie, and her company while his brother played with yet another national treasure, Andre Tanker. I was extremely appreciative of his acceptance of an offer to be interviewed by me.  I knew he would be early for our one o’clock appointment so I made a deliberate effort to get to the studio early.  I arrived at 12.50 pm. and found him sitting quietly in the waiting room.  He had entered the waiting room with little fan fare so much so that the station manager did not even know that “the” Happy Williams was in the waiting area.  This was a perfect example of the man I would interview and that I would find to be gracious, humble, fair, honest, and connected, as well as committed to his art.

Williams left Trinidad to join his sister at the London College of Music in 1962.  It was clear to him that he was already a bass player his mission now was to continue improving his chops, listening to music, and playing with others.

“When I left home it was never a case of, ‘Maybe one day I’ll do this, I’ll get to that.’  When I left home it was ‘the day’….Of course everything is a process…but I never felt out of place working with anybody….I don’t think it was arrogance, it just was in me, it was what I wanted to do, it was my dream, it was my life, nothing else mattered but to get to that dream….this dream to get to this music.”

He stayed just a year at the London College of Music.

“I went to London to the London college of music and I stayed for maybe a year.  I had a very good teacher he was with the London Symphony orchestra but I started getting offers and gigs, I was working in nightclubs, you know, wherever I could play, pubs, it didn’t matter, and I had this desire, this thing to just get out there and play.  I stayed a year at school and then I started, more and more, working, and it became more and more difficult to stay in school.  Sometimes I regret it but it led me to another destination.”

It did indeed lead him to another destination. After a tip from Ron Carter, Williams got a gig with Gap and Chuck Mangione.  Since then he has played with Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Donald Byrd and the Blackbirds, Cedar Walton, George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Billy Taylor, Ornete Coleman, Elvin Jones and many others.  He later moved to LA where he worked in studio with many artists including Masekela, David Benoit, Jermaine Jackson, and Liberace.

The passion that Williams feels for playing and sharing music seems common among successful musicians, particularly of the same era. For them it seems that playing the music was the most important thing.  As Happy said of his experience,

“There was always always music and again there was nothing to be in a lime and then it would take off to something else and before you know it we were on the street with cuatro and shak shak and thing…and back then it wasn’t always about making money and this business venture that it is now, it was all about the art-form and the community.”

I can notice, though, that Happy and this successful bunch also valued their work and the work of others so that even though it was not about money they were able to figure out how they should be rewarded for their work.

In closing I asked him if he had, as a longstanding professional musician, any words of advice for his colleagues.  He had this to share,

“You have to be concerned with the artform. You have to have some kind of a passion and respect the artform, whatever it is you’re doing, …you have to have respect for the music because the music will humble you.”



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