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Etienne Charles: Trumpet's First Chantwell

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With Creole Soul, Charles advocates composers from Bob Marley, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Winsford Devine, and Bo Diddley while penning six of his own compositions. It features the Marley classic "Turn Your Lights Down Low," a song that Charles has long been a part of Charles' repertoire, and Monk's "Green Chimney." Perhaps a song that best captures the mood of the Creole Soul is the Bo Diddley tune "You Don't Love Me," a song played as a blues by artists like Willie Cobbs and Junior Wells, as a rocksteady for reggae artist Dawn Penn, and now a jazz tune by Charles. Dawn Penn's version can still be heard on movies and TV commercials, and has been sampled by artists from Lilly Allen, Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, Beyonce and Rhianna. It is a song that was originally written as a blues that has enjoyed life in other genres giving it a sort of creole soul.

Creole Soul is also about a return to composition for Charles. "I hadn't written music since Folklore (Self Produced, 2009), so I was like 'OK, time to write some music,'" says Charles. "It's a direct reflection of what I've been listening to. I've been listening to a lot of French Caribbean music, a lot of music from Martinique, and Haitian music."

For songs like "Turn Your Lights Down Low," "Green Chimneys," "You Don't Love Me" and "Memories," Charles says that he wanted to "accentuate the idea of mixed cultures."

"The music is about being of a mixed culture or mixed heritage," Charles reveals. "It's about the many many things that make us who we are."

One facet that makes Charles who he is and defines his music is dancing. Music and dance always go together. There are still a few who remember when swing was also considered a dance and not just the sound of Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
' drum set. Even within classical western music, the idea of dancing to music is prevalent. Gigues don't just serve as Baroque classical pieces that conservatory students have to learn for juries, they are the 17th century equivalent of today's Harlem Shake. "I grew up— every time I heard music, there was dancing involved, every single time," recalls Charles. "My sister's a dancer, [so] every time I went to her dancer concerts there were always African drummers playing, or there were always music playing and they would dance to the music. So I was accustomed to seeing movement with sound—they always go together. Funnily enough, my favorite gigs are the ones where we're playing with the specific purpose of people dancing. I believe it's more challenging to keep people on the dance floor than [keeping] them interested in a concert hall."

"I always encourage people if they feel like dancing to get up and dance. I'm not one of those people who [will] get offended if you decide to shout and make some noise. I'm always encouraging them; to me, the most fun I have is when people actually get up and dance. Because it's an exchange of energy, we're playing and they're dancing, and we're going back and forth."

"But it's a challenge, and specifically our goal is to make people tap their toes, bounce their heads, and snap their fingers, shake their butts, and get up and move. That's our purpose, that's what we come out to do. Be it swing, calypso, reggae, funk, everything we play we try to make as deep in the groove as possible so that people feel the urge to get up and bounce. The bounce to me is everything in music. For me, it's about dancing—especially Caribbean music, it's about making that booty shake."

Charles' rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys" is one example of the bounce he commands. A bounce that is closely related to what Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
1890 - 1941
piano
calls "The Spanish Tinge."

"With 'Green Chimneys' it's almost like a habanera type rhythm, which is common sense based on where Monk grew up in San Juan Hill," comments Charles. "He must have [heard] calypso music. Caribbean music and New Orleans is all about beat four, [so] I connected the bass line and the melody on beat four to help accentuate that. A lot of people play 'Green Chimneys' as a second line beat. But we did it with a calypso beat instead of second line."

Charles' conviction about the bounce and dancing go so deep that he also shares it to his students at Michigan State University where he is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies. "I was teaching this camp at Michigan State," recalls Charles. "I was conducting one of the big bands at the camp. I do this also with my university students—I teach them how to dance to the music. I will put the original recording on and I will make them dance. Why? If you don't know how to dance, you don't know how to make somebody dance. If you don't know how to dance, there's no way you know why that person wrote [the] music to connect to the bounce—if it's dance music."

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