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Jazz in Trinidad & Tobago

By

Tevin R. Gall

October 27, 2020


Top Image: Vaughnette Bigford. Photo: Maria Nunes.

In a country where musical traditions are rooted in soulful rhythms and improvised melodies, jazz influences continue to capture the imagination of composers, artists and concert producers in Trinidad and Tobago. Chantal Esdelle, seasoned pannist, keyboardist, ethnomusicologist and founder of the Ethnic Jazz Club on Cornelio Street in Woodbrook shared her thoughts on the recent rise in these events.

“‘Jazz’ is really an imperial Western way of labelling African [musical] expression in the Americas. It’s an umbrella term.” She continues, “It’s always easiest to [use that label]. We have to use another name to call the things that happen outside of calypso and soca.”  

Fair enough, as most of the artists featured at the annual Tobago Jazz Festival--names like Toni Braxton, Lauryn Hill and Chaka Khan--are more Top 40 than ‘pure’ jazz. But while this may be true, their music does lend to a certain openness of expression: the artist and band are often led by the mood of the audience, while the music is peppered with improvisational riffs, using rich, layered harmonies. And that’s where the ‘jazz’ element comes in. Esdelle explains that what’s important is that the patrons can relate to the music. “That’s the connecting thread, the thing that makes it enjoyable.”

But for a diverse people such as ourselves, can there be such a thing as ‘pure’ jazz? Esdelle explains that the jazz from each culture is different, as it takes on the influences of that culture. “Kaiso and soca inspire the jazz that we do.”

All the same, Esdelle explains that those who label themselves as jazz performers “try to be specific in what we’re doing.” She clarified, “It’s necessary to give another context.” These are the artists, like herself, who play to smaller crowds that actively seek out jazz performers. “The audiophiles...and [people who] don’t necessarily have to sing along.”

A chat with jazz vocalist Vaughnette Bigford gave more insight into the local jazz scene: “Jazz on the Greens is the staple event for the year.” North Coast Jazz, held in Blanchisseuse is “one of the newer [events] but is special [in how it] celebrates local artists and musicians.”

Bigford also produces her own annual event, the VSpot Semi-Inclusive Jazz experience, held at Clifton Hill Manor during Point Fortin Borough Day’s celebrations.

Undoubtedly, the richness of our musical influences is expertly showcased through our take on the jazz artform, with a world-class lineup of jazz and jazz-flavoured events.

Annual Jazz Events

  • Jazz Artists on the Greens - The Greens at Farm Road, St Joseph, Trinidad
  • Jazz Under the Stars - Green Meadows, Santa Cruz, Trinidad
  • North Coast Jazz Festival 2020 - Festival Grounds, Sir Solomon Hochoy Park, Blanchisseuse, Trinidad
  • VSpot Semi - Inclusive Jazz Experience - Clifton Hill Manor, Point Fortin, Trinidad
  • Women in Jazz - Fiesta Plaza MovieTowne, Trinidad
  • Jazz on the Beach - Mt Irvine Bay, Tobago
  • The Tobago Jazz Experience - Speyside, Signal Hill, Scarborough, Castara and the Pigeon Point Heritage Park, Tobago