Etienne Charles: Trumpet's First Chantwell

DanMichael Reyes By

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"If you're talking about Count Basie's music, that's dance music. A lot of Duke Ellington's records—that's based on dance rhythms. You talk about calypso, funk and R&B; that's all dance rhythms. So I'll put on 'September' and I'll make them two-step so they learn how to two-step to Earth, Wind & Fire. Then I'll keep that same tempo and put on a Count Basie [record] so they're two stepping to Basie, then it connects to them that it's the same two-beat vibe. Then I'll take something from The Meters like 'Hey Pocky A-Way' and make them two- step to that, take some calypso and make them two-step to that. I sit them back down and we play the tune and it grooves like 28 times better. It immediately connects to the body and the brain, you immediately know where to syncopate and where the bounce [is]. It's probably one of my most helpful tools as a teacher."

Musicians that are featured on Creole Soul that help him achieve his bounce are tenor saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, alto saxophonist Brian Hogans, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Kris Bowers, former Juilliard classmate Ben Williams on bass, drummer Obed Calvaire, percussionists D'Achee and Daniel Sadownick, and a guest appearance from voodoo priest Erol Josue, on vocals.

"I wrote the music with these musicians specifically in mind," says Charles. "Because I've been playing with them for so many years, I know that these are the things that would feature them well and these are the things that they would naturally add on to. On 'Creole,' a Haitian tune—Obed's Haitian! So that was right up his alley. I told him that I wanted that Haitian thing and he was like 'Yeah, yeah, yeah!' and it was natural! Then you have Kris Bowers [who] is a great jazz player and an unbelievable pianist. But he can also sit down at the Fender Rhodes [and] bring that color to it. Alex Wintz, Jacques Schwarz-Bart, and all those guys, we've been playing together for years now. Ben Williams has been one of my best friends. We went to school together."

"I heard Alex on Brian Hogans' record. Brian and I have been playing together for years so he was a natural fit. He came into the session and just killed it. D'Achee the percussionist and I have [also] been playing together for years. It's really a band record, when I listen to it I actually feel the love. I feel like it's just us hanging out in the studio and we played some music."

Though Charles is a trumpeter, he is also proficient in playing cuatro and the steel pan. On, Folklore, Charles composed the music on cuatro and steel pan. For the new album, he wrote all the tunes sitting behind the piano except for "Doin' the Thing," which is a tribute to trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Writing the music on cuatro and steel pan helps keep ground the music to its Caribbean roots. Certain timbres from instruments that are native to the Caribbean certainly help give life to the composition process. But another avenue that is essential to Caribbean music is call and response, of which Charles is instinctively mindful when he writes.

"I always think about call-and-response when I write, because it makes the music conversational," says Charles. "It's engrained in me as a musician and composer who is coming out of the African Diaspora and the Caribbean. It's engrained in me that music must have call-and-response. It's one of the defining characteristics of jazz. It's definitely one of the defining characteristics of African Diaspora music or black music.

"With the first track, 'Creole,' the first thing I wrote was the lavway. Lavway means the hook or the theme. It's a word we use in Trinidad to refer to as the chorus or the theme. An example of a lavway would be Michael Jackson [singing], 'Billie Jean is not my lover.' The lavway of 'Creole' was based on a chant and it was the first thing that I wrote. The rest of the tune came out of that. It was a groove that we improvise over knowing that the lavway was going to come in. We bring in the lavway and improvise on top of the lavway. That's exactly what they used to do in the circles at Trinidad."

"During improvisation call and response happens naturally, but when I write I try to make sure I put it in. In the large scheme of the tune the call and response goes from Eb minor to Gb major. So it goes from dark to light. Basically, that's the call-and- response."


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