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The GQ Arrangers

…three competitive collaborators
Published: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Saturday night’s Brooklyn Panorama had to be postponed because of rain and in the end the seven bands were not judged but rather played their hearts out for enthusiastic pan fans on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Sadly, Philly Pan Starts could not perform with the delay and many of the bands had players who could not attend. The bands ended up performing on the side of the stage, allowing the audience to hear fabulous acoustic pan music up close.

What was to be a heated competition became an outstanding concert. Two of the steelbands had arrangers who have collaborated regularly over the past few years: Odie Franklin, the arranger for Despers USA for the last several years, and Kendall Williams, currently the arranger for Brooklyn’s CASYM orchestra and formally the arranger for CrossFire for several years. Indeed, they are two-thirds of a trio of arrangers who have been making quite a name for themselves collaborating on Panorama arrangements not in Brooklyn but in Trinidad and Toronto.

The third member of their team, Marc Brooks, is a Brooklyn-born pan player who has previously arranged for the New York Pan Stars and Harmony. Rather than arranging this year, Brooks played pan for not one but two bands. And you guessed it, for both Despers USA and CASYM, the two bands his co-arrangers lead. The three of them don’t have a name for their collaboration but others have christened them the Three Amigos. An announcer a few weeks ago at Pan Alive in Toronto pronounced them the GQ Arrangers because she was impressed with how they dressed.

The three, who are all friends in Brooklyn, got together just a couple years ago to work up an arrangement for the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra. BSO was originally put together as an all-star pan orchestra of the best pan players in New York City to audition for America’s Got Talent in 2013. Franklin, Williams and Brooks enjoyed working together on the AGT audition and decided to work up additional material for future BSO concerts. BSO’s most ambitious effort to date has been to travel to Trinidad to participate in the 2015 International Conference and Panorama. BSO placed fourth in the ICP competition with the GQ’s arrangement of Ah Feeling, Ah Feeling. This was no small feat, as BSO was the only non-Trinidadian band to place among the top eight finishers.

During their stay in Trinidad BSO was hosted at the Skiffle Panyard in San Fernando and came under the watchful eye of Skiffle’s manager and now mayor of San Fernando, Junia Regrello. He had been suitably impressed, and before they had finished rehearsing Regrello hired them to arrange for Skiffle. The three have arranged for Skiffle for the last two years and they are already looking forward to 2018 Trinidad Panorama.

Meanwhile, Ed Peters, one of Toronto’s leading builder/tuners and leader of the Brampton Golden Harps had contacted Williams who suggested the trio arrange for this Canadian band. Peters gushes praise: “I am very pleased and impressed with their professionalism, commitment and dedication. They work well together and have brought a refreshing atmosphere to our young band. We plan to keep this relation for many years.”

Their five joint arrangements have been an ever-evolving process. According to Williams, Bruno usually starts with a rough skeleton and the two others jump in—all three are open to editing and changing as things progress and the arrangement takes shape. They send each other the evolving scores on the Sibelius software and meet together regularly, share ideas, and try to open to new ways of arranging by learning from each other. “The key is humbleness, to find three individuals who can work together, that’s a rare thing,” noted Odie. “Its ‘about a mindset” said Marc. It’s easy for us to have musical conversations. It’s easy for us to share ideas.” Williams reflects, “For three arrangers to get together and have so many ideas for one song is not an easy thing, but working together we can learn from each other, bounce ideas, expand our creativity.”

Odie Franklin grew up around Brooklyn panyards and started playing at a young age under the tutelage of his father, Clement Franklin, who was the long-time captain/tuner of Despers USA. Odie first arranged for the band in 2011 has been doing so ever since. For this season’s Brooklyn Panorama he arranged Machel and Bunji’s Buss Head.

Marc Brooks started playing pan as a teenager with local Brooklyn bands including the Sesame Flyers and Sonatas. He arranged for Brooklyn Panorama in 2012 and 2014 with the Harmony Steel Orchestra, and has also been the primary arranger for the stage side, New York Pan Stars. Marc credits Jit Samaroo, the arranger for Sesame Flyers, as one of his major influences. He was very excited to get to play with both Despers USA and CASYM.

Kendall Williams was born in Brooklyn and raised in Miami where his parents both played with Miami South Stars. He went to Florida Memorial University studying under Dawn Batson and then got his master’s degree from New York University and now is at Princeton where he is pursuing a doctorate in music composition. He drummed for Franklin in Despers the two years before became the arranger for Crossfire in 2013. This season Kendall arranged Voice’s Far from Finished for CASYM.

Panorama arrangers are best known for their fierce competitive spirit. Yet, the GQ Arrangers have demonstrated that competitive collaborators can work together toward the shared goal of creating sweet pan music. Sunday afternoon all three were part of a fabulous Panorama concert that brought joy to the hearts of hundreds of pan lovers.

2017 NEW YORK PANORAMA
(in order of appearance, not judged)

1. Despers USA Steel Orchestra - Buss Head - Arranger: Odie Franklin
2. Harmony Music Makers - Full Extreme - Arranger: Clive Telemaque
3. ADLIB Steel Orchestra - Good Morning - Arranger: Shelton C. Besson
4. Radoes Steel Orchestra Full Extreme Arranger: Terrance “BJ” Marcelle
5. MP STEEL - Calypso - Arranger: Earl Brooks, Jr.
6. CASYM Steel Orchestra - Far From Finished - Arranger: Kendall Williams
7. Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra - Full Extreme -Arranger: Andre White

RAY FUNK AND RAY ALLEN