Like many thing in the world at March 2020 when the global pandemic was declared, Jazz in the Islands isolated and pivoted. But unlike many other ventures, this magazine is linked to Caribbean jazz festival life and the musicians within. These last three years were devastating to many creators. In 2023, we're back! Festival life resurrected in Barbados, French Guiana, Martinique, Cuba and Haiti. And into 2023, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Dominica are set to relaunch their jazz festivals. Resilience is a Caribbean hallmark and we are here to document it all.
A new year, an old trick. In our island space, this music we call jazz is given a new life by a new generation of players who have a broader perspective. The benefits of diaspora living, maybe. Ironically, however, the technology of the 20th century is back to satisfy the audiophiles who insist that digital technology is cold and clinical, and the pops and clicks of vinyl are the preferred way to hear modern music. It may just be a collector's lucky time to be alive, but archivists and artists are putting their new music on vinyl to an ever increasing global demand. It may be our time now too.
In our continuing efforts to eke out a living in a landscape without borders where the traveling musician can now reside in two countries, we are at the behest of forces beyond the music. That "adjunct to tourism" as described by Derek Walcott, that creative enterprise, that music celebration is warped by our desire to please an outside audience. Caribbean jazz festivals are now awakening to the idea that home is where the heart is in their revamping of old models of engagement. The native is no longer tropical, but international.
There is a growing fascination with the sound of the steelpan in mainstream music circles. The "audacity of creole imagination" that birthed the steelband movement appears to be waning in its influence as more and more steelpan jazz albums are being created outside the corridors of the Trinidad headquarters. In the first years of the 21st century, France has gained traction as a space for creativity and commerce with steelpan jazz. We should not be left too far behind. Bebop and beguine are becoming new musical tropes for a young generation of players from the wider Caribbean.
Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA is a mecca for music students world over. A few Caribbean musicians have ventured there to improve their skills and theoretical knowledge. Caribbean jazz is better for the fact of a new cadre of musicians who can and do play their instruments at a level that is recognised globally. Ron Reid is a pioneer who went there and is now teaching there, and in turn produces a cadre of artists that benefits the genre. We are looking at a new era of calypso jazz with new recordings and now new musicians.
Exile in the diaspora could be a theme for this issue of Jazz in the Islands. We feature four musicians from Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Grenada and Curaçao who do not reside on these islands, but in metropolitan centres that provide them with work and some success. Importantly, the Caribbean is losing musicians as our economies are not sustaining careers. Exile means access, it means travelling. The return is for inspiration. And we re-chart a seminal album's recording by another musician who almost made that life shift from local to international.
We're back after a pause. This second edition coincides with the launch of trumpeter Etienne Charles' new Christmas album in Trinidad. Creole Christmas is his fifth album and points to the kind of output needed for this genre to have legs in the world. In the interim, there has been a smattering of new releases. Jazz in the Islands talks to Rudy Smith to get a handle on his long career as a recording artist playing jazz on the steelpan. A side-by-side commentary of St. Lucia's and Tobago's jazz events is noted. Here's looking to number three.
Well, we did it. After many years of gestation, welcome all to the première edition of Jazz in the Islands, a periodical dedicated to compiling and reviewing Caribbean jazz music, musicians, and festivals throughout the islands. I am lucky to be part of an organisation that produces a jazz festival in Trinidad, so this launch coincides with the 2015 Jazz Artists on the Greens™ festival. Fortuitous, serendipitous, blessed. This is our music. Let's all share in the native rhythms, the found sounds, the improvised joy of Caribbean Jazz.