New Orleans, was particularly marked by the “Spanish tinge” that came from various islands of the Caribbean. In places such as Haiti, Trinidad, and Cuba, African traditions were vigorously preserved and blended in various ways with European elements, creating new musical traditions that continue to develop to this day.
Trumpeter Etienne Charles, born in Trinidad and raised in a highly musical family, eventually made his way to this country and finished his musical education at the Juilliard School. Like others of his generation he has embraced the rich tradition of bebop and of trumpet players like Dizzy Gillespie. But in many ways Charles has the entire tradition of the jazz trumpet at his fingertips, from Storyville brothel anthems to the virtuosic, harmonically complex flights of Gillespie. It is not easy to develop a new take on the tradition, but Charles has managed to do this by being true to his personal history.
The Trinidad traditions that permeate Charles’s music are different from the more commonly encountered Afro-Cuban styles. The rhythms, while no less complex, are more easygoing, the steel drum timbres unique, and the vocal stylings often deceptively relaxed. We often think of calypso as a laid-back form of dance music, but the lyrics, especially early on, have often been highly political, commenting on events of the day and the struggles against economic and racial injustice. Sometimes funny, sometimes quite raunchy, and often laced with a bit of sadness, the various forms of calypso have been an integral part of island life.