In the dwindling days of 2012 there was a hubbub over the creative industries and the state-enterprise model for its growth, as well as the pending fall-out over the government's counter-strategy of using its favoured soca son to drive the local music industry.
These conflicting plans by separate ministries to make T&T's music global ignore the fact that the music industry happily went along, dynamic and fluid, yet all the time improvising to the changes in the landscape of attribution (copyright), distribution and now global exploitation.
Improvisation is a key element of jazz, and here in T&T, that niche of the local music landscape reflects some of the bigger issues that plague and guide that industry.
The demise of the only local terrestrial station dedicated to jazz, WMJX FM, and its subsequent conversion to an online format a couple of years ago would have put the nail in the coffin of a less cherished musical heritage, but jazz and certainly its Caribbean variant continues finding its centre via concerts and a few new CD releases by those dedicated artistes challenging the music landscape outside of soca, calypso and parang.
The annual Jazz Artists on the Greens (JAOTG) in Trinidad in March, and the Tobago Jazz Experience (TJE) and Jazz on the Beach, both in Tobago in April, have proven that the original template for Caribbean jazz festivals, designed as magnets for American music lovers-cum-tourists viewing pop and R&B acts, are rapidly passing into the irrelevance of abandonment.
Tobago Jazz Experience–four years old in 2012–is a template for the growth of a destination travel model that Trinidad was looking to create outside of Carnival to no avail, with events like the forgotten World Beat Festival. TJE is not necessarily bringing many foreign visitors, but rather Trinidadians looking for a quick musical feast of the oft-repeated design of superstar with local supporting act.
JAOTG and Jazz on the Beach at Mt Irvine harbour the notion that Caribbean jazz can be the signal for a new local music appreciation and have for ten years and six years respectively done exactly that. Holding fast to the mantra "jazz is freedom," rules are dispensed with, and anything goes. The aping of foreign model of performance and style are eschewed in favour of influences and rhythms from up and down the Caribbean.
All these shows are proving more and more that Caribbean acts are fan favourites. Bajan saxophonist Arturo Tappin on a rainy Sunday night at TJE, and earlier Michelle Henderson of Dominica at JAOTG delighted audiences there and showed a standard of playing, singing and importantly, a standard of performance–that nuanced connection that artistes have with an audience–that have not fully blossomed among the many singers and musicians marketing
themselves as jazz artists.
Fear not, all hope is not lost, however. A new dimension in the evolved music business in T&T is the idea of eschewing the professional promoter in favour of doing it oneself. Artist-produced concerts are putting younger talents that have evolved the tradition of local jazz into the spotlight.
The zeitgeist of a generation or two ago placed local music in the milieu of jazz with calypsoes being played by our equivalent of the jazz big band, the brass band. Young musicians are now dealing, with varying success, in the challenges of interpreting or in some cases re-interpreting the canon of local and foreign musicians.
Two highly recommend artists pursuing with determination a greater appreciation of the language of jazz are saxophonist/flautist Anthony Woodroffe, Jr and singer Vaughnette Bigford.
They performed the annual ritual of the live concert as music theatre for the uninitiated. Anthony, who is admittedly not a songwriter, can coax new meaning out of the evolving new jazz standard. With his sixth annual Evening of Jazz, in August, he deeply mined the songbooks of modern jazz saxophonists to replicate the sound and tone of a Bob Reynolds, Kenny Garrett or a Grover Washington, yet providing enough improvisation skill to keep the audience interest piqued.
For a second year, Bigford delivered a concert experience that epitomised a production standard too unfamiliar to artists here. Her tone and phrasing informs the local songbook of Shorty I, Ray Holman with a sonority probably not considered by the composers, but one which tests the limits of the song structure to a possibility that our music can be global without the wail of a soca singer seeking succour in foreign producers.
The paucity of new local jazz recordings this year, and the diminution of local copyrights by fewer composers adding to the jazz canon, signal the potential for a reversal of the blossoming of new avenues for the business of jazz. The new year could evolve as a watershed year.
Government's intention to embolden the creative industries should awaken the spirit of creativity that flourished between WWII and Independence. The resilience of this music called jazz, in all its variations, suggests that there'll be more to listen to and talk about in the future.
�2 Nigel A Campbell produces concerts and blogs about Caribbean jazz and music at www.jazzintt.blogspot.com
The zeitgeist of a generation or two ago placed local music in the milieu of jazz with calypsoes being played by our equivalent of the jazz big band, the brass band.