8.9.12 Etienne Charles Quintet
“..Etienne Charles exhibits both an authentic preservation of the music of his native culture of Trinidad as a composer and bandleader, while broadening our scope of understanding through the collaborative sound of American jazz as it meets new colors, new textures, and new motifs across the world. It will certainly bring more of our public into the jazz audience” – Marcus Roberts
“An amazing Trumpet player, and Steel Drum player, and Cuatro player…young Trinidadian who has held onto his heritage” – Monty Alexander
“A daring improviser, Charles also delivers with heart-wrenching lyricism” – Jazz Times
“…had strength and a clear, almost classical sense of thematic organization.” – New York Times
Born on the island of Trinidad in 1983, Etienne Charles defies easy musical categorization.
Etienne’s musical lineage runs at least four generations deep: His great-grandfather, Clement Monlouis, emigrated to Trinidad from the overseas French department of Martinique bringing his folk music to the village of Mayaro; The young trumpeter’s grandfather, Ralph Charles’ distinct cuatro style can be heard on the classic folk and calypso recordings of the Growling Tiger; and, Etienne’s father, Francis Charles, was a member of Phase II Pan Groove, one of Trinidad’s most progressive steel bands and one that Etienne himself would later join. Immersed in his father’s vast record collection, and suffused with the sounds of calypso, steel pan, and African Shango drumming, Etienne imbibed many of the influences that presently constitute the diverse colors of his harmonic palette.
Outside of his parent’s household, the Bishop Anstey Junior School proved to be a potent incubator of Etienne’s talent. It was at this school that he began playing the recorder. At the tender age of 10, he received a trumpet from his Uncle proceeding to fill the house with noise becoming a neighborhood nuisance in the process – he was sent to formal lessons on the instrument.
Etienne’s musical success was eclipsed only by his academic and sporting prowess; he excelled at the prestigious Fatima College and was a member of the school’s football, cricket, swimming and water polo teams and won the Provincial Cup three times, first at the age of 13. He also studied trumpet briefly with Major Edouard Wade and then at the Brass Institute where he would quickly become the youngest member of the school’s professional band, TBI brass. Etienne added drums and percussion to his musical arsenal landing his first theatre job, in the pit playing percussion for local productions of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Treasure Island’. By then, Etienne also accompanied his father on the yearly ritual of playing on the road during the carnival season on J’ouvert morning, carnival Monday and Tuesday as well as for the Panorama steel pan competition with Phase II.
As a musically precocious sixteen-year-old, Etienne attended the summer performance program at Berklee College of Music where he studied with Lin Biviano and Tiger Okoshi. This was a turning point in the young trumpeter’s life. Three years later, Etienne enrolled on a scholarship at the Florida State University, coming under the influence of the distinguished pianist and teacher Marcus Roberts, and graduated as the College of Music Brautlecht Scholar with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. In the summer of 2005 Etienne placed second in the International Trumpet Guild Jazz Competition in Bangkok, Thailand and performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands. In March 2006 he placed 1st in the National Trumpet Competition in Fairfax, Virginia. Then, in the summer of 2006, while attending the prestigious Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles where in 2006 he recorded on the album Elevation, which received two Grammy award nominations. Etienne received a full scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree at the world-renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York City. At Juilliard, he studied with Mark Gould, Joe Wilder and Chris Jaudes and toured extensively to Qatar, Costa Rica, Aiken, SC and St. Louis, MO with the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra. Fascinated with the New York City jazz scene, he began to freelance arduously around NYC. He has performed and recorded with greats in many different genres including Grammy Award winners Roberta Flack, Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Mandel, Ralph MacDonald, Maria Schneider, the Count Basie Orchestra as well as Marcus Roberts, Monty Alexander, Frank Foster, Wycliffe Gordon, Rene Marie, Lord Blakie and David Rudder.
His debut album, Culture Shock (2006), features a unique mélange of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and straight-ahead jazz. Pianist extraordinaire Marcus Roberts is featured, with Ralph MacDonald, trombonist Vincent Gardner, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, vocalist Pam Laws, and the hard swinging and solid rhythm section of Rodney Jordan and Leon Anderson on bass and drums respectively. This all-star cast brought together Charles’s diverse influences and created a unified, fresh, and urgent musical presentation. In August 2007 Etienne made his New York debut as a leader at the New York City’s Museum of Modern Art Summergarden series where he premiered ‘Folklore Tales’ – a suite of original music inspired by the folklore characters of Trinidad.
In 2009 Etienne releases Folklore, an enticing album of original music. The music employs jazz improvisation and harmony with folk rhythms and chants inspired by the African experience of Trinidad & Tobago. At album’s core is a suite of compositions based on characters of the Afro-Caribbean folkloric tradition: La Diablesse, Douens, Soucouyant, Mama D’lo, Mama Malade and Papa Bois. These mythical creatures have been a part of the Caribbean folk heritage for centuries as they were brought over by West African slaves and passed down from generation to generation through stories, chants and dances. The album explores these stories, interpreting images and tales and opening up a true rhythmic and harmonic dialogue between history, tradition and multiple music genres. To be sure, these characters have been referenced in the folk music of the Caribbean. However, it is a rare musical imagination that can breathe new rhythmic life into characters that have resided largely in oral narrative. Etienne Charles comes fully prepared with a unique concept and a plethora of musical resources for this watershed effort. Etienne shares the spotlight with two of the most acclaimed artistes of Trinidadian origin, steel pannist extraordinaire Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, and Grammy award winning percussionist Ralph MacDonald. In this connection, Etienne’s employment of the four-stringed cuatro, together with the La Vrai and extempo motifs, call attention to his thorough immersion and deep study of the calypso and Trinidadian folk music genres. This landmark recording also features Guadeloupean saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Milan Milanovic on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, drummer Obed Calvaire, percussionists D’Achee & Ray Charles as well as vocalists Keith ‘Designer’ Prescott, Wendell Manwarren and Roger Roberts.
Etienne Charles stands at the vanguard of a new generation of musicians who are from the Caribbean but are not totally of it, in terms of a fresh and broad-ranging artistic vision, and in the myriad influences encompassed in their soundscape.
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- August 8, 2012 / 3:33 am
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