Friday, 9 December 2011

Jesse Ryan: A New Jazz "Superstar"

Jesse Ryan © 2010, Jade Slinger
Jesse Ryan is humble to a fault, but his talent, even at his young age and admittedly juvenile academic level is profound, enticing the ears of those who listen with the phrasing and improvisatory ideas of an old soul. I had the pleasure of hearing this student of jazz—a Berklee undergraduate intermittently returning to the college as funds would allow—at La Casa de Ibiza at a Karl Doyle produced event last year and was immediately making comparisons in terms of long-term potential with the young lion colossus, Etienne Charles who single handedly reaffirmed my belief that one must sojourn in the centres of academe abroad to make sense and add sensibility to our native music and it's variations. Jesse's technique is there. His improvising skill is growing. His composition skill is ambitious and set for taking Caribbean jazz out of its niche of ethnic fusion to a mainsteram acceptance based on skill, talent and precedence.

This generation of jazz musicians born after the oil boom years is making a space for itself after the prolific New School generation of Ming, Theron Shaw, Sean Thomas, Clifford Charles, Sean Friday. It is my belief that this thing that Scofield Pilgrim codified as Kaiso Jazz, calypso jazz, call it what you may, was given life by Clive Zanda's generation—"Two Left", Ralph Davies, "Buddy" Williams—and enhanced by the generation of Raf Roberson, the Boothman Brothers, the late Dave Marcellin, Anise Hadeed, "Boogsie". The New School had the chops but frustratingly got the business model wrong, laying a path for the young lions of Etienne, Jesse, Tony Woodroofe Jr, Mikhail Salcedo to play and, critically, to compose and play their originals to a growing audience of discerning listeners who get this thing called jazz.

In our small marketplace here in Trinidad and Tobago, and even regionally, the few jazz musicians who make a critical difference both in terms of mass appeal and demand must also make a decision to hone their skills in the competitive and lucrative arena of the metropolitan marketplace. The ability to stay in the Caribbean and make a living has been a rare pleasure offered few artists from the era of the literary boom in the 1950s with the advent of Lamming, Naipaul, Mittelholzer, Selvon, and others. Jesse Ryan, by choice and probably by circumstance, remains in Trinidad—a parallel Earl Lovelace— mining the influences that an interconnected jazz world can offer virtually, and eking out a living with the diminished opportunities that allow, such as teaching and irregular performance. Creativity and distribution of that creative output become the victims of economies of scale.

Since first seeing Jesse at Ibiza, he has had a couple fundraising concerts. I hoped we would be hearing exploits from Boston, but alas. It is hoped that the opportunities that allow for advanced music education in the land of jazz flow to Jesse. I was reminded by Caribbean jazz blogger, M. Minchie Israel of what I said in a review of the Ibiza show last year: "Look, this Trinidadian is going to put us on the map as a music nation, I tell you." His compositions ring in my ears as signposts of a developing talent who will add successfully to the canon of this country's music.  His musicality speaks of a maturity defined by staying in this Caribbean space and growing. Small steps for Jesse now. Coltrane's "Giant Steps" await around the bend.

© 2011 Nigel A. Campbell.  All Rights Reserved.

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