A Season of Steel Pan

Two big events in the steelband world take place this fall

  • Virtuoso pannist and arranger Robert Greenidge is one of the leading figures in pan music. Photograph by Pan Jazz Secretariat
  • The steel pan. Photograph courtesy Pan Jazz Secretariat
  • Puerto Rico's flaurist Dave Valentin was a hit at the 1991 Pan Jazz Festival. Photograph by Pan Jazz Secretariat

Two of the premier events in the world of pan are the Trinidad and Tobago Pan Jazz Festival and the Steelband Music Festival. These events are to be staged close to each other in Trinidad in October and November.

The Steelband Music Festival, first staged in 1980, is scheduled for October 15-31. Entitled Pan is Beautiful VI, the Festival will he held at the Jean Pierre Complex, a 6,000-seat sports facility on the edge of Port of Spain.

Over 30 steel orchestras and 20 steelpan soloists are expected to take part. Preliminary competition runs for four days, from October 15 to 18, with the semi-finals scheduled for October 23 and 24 and the grand final on October 31.

Over the years, a number of prominent musicians have served as adjudicators, including Wynton Marsalis, Nathan Davis, John Corigliano, Easely Blackwood and Richard Murphy. This year, the panel of judges is expected to include Professor Orville Wright from the Berklee School of Music; Professor Allan O’Connor, Head of Northern Illinois University’s Music Department; and a professor from the Jamaica School of Music.

WITCO Desperadoes Steel Orchestra is the defending national Steelband Music Festival champion, having won the 1986 festival, as well as the world steelband champion, having won the inaugural World Steelband Music Festival in 1988. The 1992 champion will perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops during the summer of 1993.

Soon after comes the fourth Trinidad and Tobago Pan Jazz Festival, to be held from November 12 to 14 at the 2,400- seat Spektakula Forum in Port of Spain. This year’s Festival is a special event, with the most diverse cast ever assembled for such a production. Among the internationally renowned stars are Stanley Jordan, Roy Hargrove, Thalib Kibwe, the Courtney Pine Jazz Reggae Band and the Othello Molineaux Quintet.

The Caribbean will be represented by the West Indies Jazz Band headed by Luther François, featuring top musicians from almost every island in the archipelago. Pan Jazz 92 stars some of the best pannists in the world, including Annise “Haffers” Hadeed, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Robert Greenidge and Ken “Professor” Philmore. Each is widely renowned as a master of the steelpan, enjoying tremendous respect and admiration from adoring fans at home. Hadeed lives in London and plays the European circuit; Sharpe and Philmore are based in New York; Greenidge operates out of California. Molineaux, a native Trinidadian as well as a master pannist, is based in Miami and has been ranked among the world’s top ten percussionists.

In jazz circles, the names of Hargrove and Jordan have become as popular as Wynton Marsalis and Arturo Sandoval, though they are still relatively new on the circuit. Hargrove excels on trumpet, while Jordan, in his early thirties, mesmerises audiences with his unique guitar. A couple of years ago, Kibwe astounded audiences at the Forum when he accompanied Swedish-based pannist Rudy Smith on saxophone.

Festival planners have incorporated an extra day of music by scheduling a workshop on November 15. At this session, young and upcoming jazz and pan artists will have the opportunity to play alongside the international professionals.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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