Points of light

Despite the gloom of this seemingly blighted republic, there are points of light. Despite being cursed with leaders unable to convert a bounty of human, natural and financial resources into a golden community, there’re stars pointing us true North…

brown-gigThree weeks ago, possibly our two greatest young musicians shared the stage at Live Art Bistro on Albion Street—jazz drummer/pannist Sean Thomas and jazz trumpeter Brownman. Bassist BJ Saunders ably accompanied the two virtuosos. The show was epic, probably better than anything else in the world that night… It was strap-on-your-seat-belt-jazz with a blistering set. Both musicians matched each other note for beat. Both are super-skilled, straight-ahead players with very sophisticated jazz vocabularies. They experimented with tone, colour, pace and time-signatures. You could feel atoms electrify as they deconstructed songs from Brownman originals to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”.

The two are equals in skill—but have very different trajectories. This is about Trinidad’s continuing tragic failure to create systems to facilitate its geniuses. Simply put: Sean stayed, Brownman left. And that matters. Brownman—now based in Toronto—is listed by Air Canada as one of the “Top 10 reasons to visit Toronto” and is touted in its mainstream press as “Canada’s preeminent jazz trumpeter”. With almost 300 recording appearances and over 4,000 live performances, Brownman has seven different bands. He’s performed or recorded with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Paul Simon, KRS-1, Nelly Furtado and the Dave Matthews Band. His accolades include Canadian National Jazz Awards, a Toronto Independent Music Award and a BRAVO! channel documentary on his life. His career was facilitated by one of the most sophisticated cultural industry systems in the world—Canada’s.

In contrast, Sean Thomas, after studying at the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz in Boston, where he played with Herbie Hancock, the Marsalis Brothers and more, after touring the world preforming for Hollywood royalty like Bill Cosby and real life royalty like the King of Thailand, he decided to return to Trinidad—to give back. Who tell he to do dat?! It’s been uphill ever since. Despite no enabling systems, Sean created “Jazz Artists on the Greens”, “Jazzalypso”, “the Trinidad Jazz Festival featuring Chutney Jazz”, “Jazz Up the Runway”, staged hundreds of shows and breathed life into many Elder musicians. He trained dozens of youngsters—the best accepted into international schools. Arguably his return revitalised the dormant jazz scene in the late ’90s paving the way for the “jazz” overload of now. Sean has no recordings, no mainstream profile in Trinidad and no dedicated band to speak of. In that same time Brownman built an empire in Canada. Sean continues to create possibilities—pitching for Trinidad to host International Jazz Day in 2015. More realistically, exile is his future…

Meanwhile, the Artists’ Coalition conceived of this idea that the signal event on Republic Day should be a President’s Command Performance featuring the nation’s best talents, culminating with a presidential address. The event would be the black tie event of the social calendar. His Excellency the demitted President Prof George Maxwell Richards agreed—and on Sunday, March 17, the inaugural President’s Command Performance was staged at Central Bank Auditorium. It was the last official act of the then president featuring his last speech—a brilliant one on “restoration”.

The show featured: storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas, tenor Eddie Cumberbatch, dance guru Sat Balkaransingh, cuatro master Robert Munroe and grandmaster Boogsie. But the sentimental favourite was the recreation of Lovey’s band—the string-band that made T&T’s first recording 100 years ago, making T&T’s industry amongst the oldest on earth. ACTT tried for months to get that combo reconstituted by an All-Star band led by Errol Ince. When the first notes of the band sounded I wept like a child… The idea is that on Republic Day we celebrate our cultural sovereignty—giving ourselves the permission to follow our own star…

About following your star—I was in the East recently and saw two of the new schools being built—they look beautiful. St Augustine Secondary and Aranjuez North Secondary are two impressive facilities that don’t look like jails like the schools of the last 20 years… Next to Aranjuez was a sports grounds with cricket nets. Refreshing to see nets returning. Boys were in the nets practising with pads and helmets. There obviously was some level of organisation. Good. But here’s the real story…

We were driving through the back roads of Barataria, escaping highway traffic, and passed a really sad-looking field with its own cricket nets—on their last stage of collapse, rusted, bent, opened out in places… The field was overgrown with dry weeds… The pelting 3 o’clock sun was stinging. Everything outside was on fire. In the midst of this furnace, there came a miracle. There he was. One boy, by himself, in the rusted nets, marking his run-up, running in to bowl at a single stump he’d placed at the batsman’s end. He alone in this field in the punishing sun. I froze in the heat, marvelling at his dedication, sweat streamed down his dark skin. I knew in that moment: “We will win yet!”

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Posted on March 28, 2013, in President's Blog and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Rubadiri, you hit the nail on the head about Sean Thomas: “More realistically, exile is his future…” And that goes for a number of other jazz musicians here in these islands. How we create an enabling environment for the creative industries may be actions of a government agency or ministry, but an enabling audience is something in short supply for progressive music and intelligent productions. Livelihoods can’t be sustained on hundreds of paying patrons.

  2. Hundreds of paying patrons organised in the marketplace properly by enabling systems are enough to provide the fodder for what matters- seed capital, incubation, and brand cache for individual international touring careers. That is what happens everywhere else. Right now .05% of our artists in all fields tour- the number should be 35%!!! And they should be touring based on their excellence in niches or global pop or mainstream markets. In this way if we had facilitating systems they could all afford to live here- but be out of the country from 1 month up to 8 months a year… That’s what being a working artist in many fields means globally… Sean is a global genius and by now should be on his 10th or so album and should have been into his 100s in collaborative recordings. He should be regularly be gigging globally and sitting into groups worldwide and have at least 2 or 3 groups- made up of regional and outernational players- that he regularly plays with and he should have been arranging for one of the large steelbands; as well as been given the resources to grow Moods- his father’s (one of the great pan tuners) band. Let’s not even talk about all the Jazz brands that Sean has created for this nation which are global franchises and possible major international festivals. .. A real country would be patenting and minting that and giving a brain like that resources to dream bigger! That;s what a real nation facilitates. Sean alone would be worth about a $100 million to the economy by himself annually… This is what we lose because of asinine leaders..

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