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Live Reviews

The 2004 St. Lucia Jazz Festival

By Published: May 26, 2004

Stopped by the press tent to say hi to the press folk. Nice to see jazz writer Willard Jenkins there—who I've read for years and finally got to meet. Also Stephanie Brown from DL Media and Erika Vives from the Nancy J. Friedman PR firm that coordinated the whole press thing. I had the opportunity to hang out with the Jazz Music Director for XM Satellite Radio, Jackson Brady, and his wonderful wife, Susan. And a special hello to my new photographer friend from Barbados, Rachelle Gray.

I took a stroll down along the shore. There was a beautiful young woman in flowing bright orange and yellow silk robes posing playfully for a photographer. She smiled and waved and I thought it would be fun to get a shot with her to take home. But—nah—she was busy working. (Next day I pick up the local newspaper...she was former Miss Universe...from Trinidad...Wendy Fitzwilliam. Duh.)

This burnin' sunny day on Pigeon Island had some equally burnin' salsa from a band called "Charanga Habanera". Later that day, highlight performers included: Blue Mango, Kenny G. and Gerald Levert.

(Let me say that there was incredible local talent, too numerous to mention in this article. But please go to the website for the complete lineup and information of these wonderfully talented St. Lucian musicians. Support St. Lucian musicians!) The next day the scheduled lineup: Floetry, Yellow Jackets and Babyface.

But it was Saturday night and there was a huge Carnival festival feast back at the nightclub. So cabbie, please take me to Gaiety on Rodney Bay. They had the most beautiful, exotic costumes and spectacular food spread I've ever seen. It was really done well. Hats off to the St. Lucia Tourism Board for really throwing a great bash and having such a wonderful St. Lucia Jazz Festival. They really are a class act.

At this time I want to take a moment to pay respect to Desmond Skeete, the St. Lucia Tourism Board Chariman and driving force behind the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, who passed away on April 29th just a week before this year's event. He is truly loved and respected by his people. This year's St. Lucia Jazz Festival was dedicated to Desmond Skeete.

That night I headed back to the Rodney Bay main drag to hear the fierce sounds of the Mingus Dynasty Band. And there—center stage—blowin' his sax is my friend Wayne Escoffrey. Blowin' hard in the rain.

I awake Sunday as a cool Caribbean drizzle wets down the tropical surroundings. A passing local smiled and said "The farmers are happy today." I sit on my balcony at the Rex St. Lucian sipping strong coffee. Just looking out at the green lush mountains. The quiet yachts slipping silently into the bay. Imagining how a pirate ship could easily sneak up on another unsuspecting vessel in a heavy fog. But—there I go again—day dreaming.

A beautiful young lady in a non-existent bikini walks past me on the beach, smiles, and slowly eases into the blue Caribbean Sea and strokes out a few yards. And keeps swimming and swimming and swimming...out to a yacht to climb aboard and lay out in the sun. I'm moving here.

Back to my room. More coffee. Pack my bags. Call a cab. It's Sampson. My favorite cabbie on the island. Call for Sampson when you get to the island: 758-450-0516. Sampson is a wealth of information. Proud of his culture. His island. His people. His history. St. Lucia changed hands 14 times. English and French laid claim.

The earliest settlers were Amerindians as early as 200 A.D. Nearly 800 years later the warlike Caribs came and took over. It's not known when the first European discovery of St. Lucia occurred, but the island is found on a map of Spanish explorer Juan de la Cosa made in 1500. A European pirate named "Wooden Leg" aka Francois Le Clerc, used Pigeon Island to attack passing Spanish ships. And while the Spanish could never really colonize the island, they have credit for giving her the name St. Lucia.

It was back and forth between the English and the French to control St. Lucia. In 1814, St. Lucia finally came under English rule. St. Lucia became an independent nation in 1979 and celebrates 25 years of Independence in 2004.

The language is called Creole Patois. Its a mix of French, English and African. Kote Pwevit-la? (Where's the bathroom?)

Sampson continues his story, pointing out the Rain Forest surprises, waterfalls, the fruit trees, mango, papaya, banana, cocoa. There's even a live volcano. I ask his birthday: July 15. "No way! That's my birthday!" I scream. We laugh and bang fists and laugh some more. Small world, eh?

I'll be back for the beauty, the peace and the music.

Visit the St. Lucia Jazz Festival on the web.

This article/experience is dedicated to my ol' black cat companion for 21 years, Skinny McFinney.

Photo Credit
Rachelle Gray | GrayWorks Media

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