It’s car­ni­val time in Toronto

Jazz artist Eti­enne Charles taps roots for bold new project

Bayview Post - - Currents -

Eti­enne Charles grew up with the sights and sounds of car­ni­val in and around his child­hood home in Trinidad and Tobago. But it was in the de­cid­edly chill­ier climes of Toronto in the com­pany of a cer­tain un­cle that he heard the mu­sic that would set him on course to be­com­ing one of the most ex­cit­ing new jazz com­posers and per­form­ers on the planet.

Charles brings his most am­bi­tious mu­si­cal project to date,

to the Toronto Cen­tre for the Arts on Nov. 16.

“When I was lit­tle, my sister and I and my mom went to visit my un­cle in Toronto,” says Charles. “He pulled out a sax and played it for us, and he let me try it. And from then on, I was hooked on mak­ing sounds. That same un­cle gave me a trum­pet many years later, so yeah, Toronto has a big role to play in my be­com­ing a mu­si­cian.”

But, back to Trinidad and Tobago, where car­ni­val, an an­nual fes­ti­val that dates back hun­dreds of years, in­cor­po­rates nu­mer­ous artis­tic tra­di­tions, al­ways cen­tred in mu­sic.

Three years ago, Charles, who is also a pro­fes­sor of jazz stud­ies at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity, got a grant from the Guggen­heim Foun­da­tion to com­pose a suite of mu­sic in­spired by car­ni­val, and he re­turned home to im­merse him­self once again in this tra­di­tion.

He trav­elled across the coun­try, meet­ing and record­ing artists on the streets and used these ses­sions to in­spire and in­form the al­bum.

“It was al­ways about in­tro­duc­ing them and their sounds and their tra­di­tions, and then show­ing my mu­si­cal re­ac­tion to it as a com­poser and im­pro­viser,” says Charles. “It is re­ally a di­a­logue.”

Charles has made a won­der­ful habit of tak­ing mu­si­cal tra­di­tions from the past and putting a mod­ern jazz spin on them, as demon­strated on his lat­est (and fourth) al­bum,

“A lot of peo­ple want to fo­cus on what’s new, but the thing is there is noth­ing re­ally new,” he says. “In mu­sic, as a com­poser, I am way more in­spired when there is a story or an event or a series of events. Like, with car­ni­val, there is just such a rich tra­di­tion that has so many dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences and is al­ways evolv­ing be­cause it is a di­a­logue with a so­ci­ety over more than 200 years.”

In­deed, as Charles points out, one could ac­tu­ally trace the his­tory of Trinidad and Tobago through car­ni­val.

He in­tends to show­case some of that his­tory for Toron­to­ni­ans this month, who will get the first taste of the car­ni­val suite of mu­sic but also get a look at some of the in­cred­i­ble cos­tumes and dances that char­ac­ter­ize the fes­ti­val. Charles will also screen some orig­i­nal videos that show­case the mu­si­cians and events from his field record­ings in Trinidad and Tobago.

“You’re go­ing to hear the mu­sic and see some of the cos­tumed per­form­ers on­stage danc­ing with us, so peo­ple can see what in­spired the com­po­si­tion,” he says.

Eti­enne Charles cel­e­brates his Trinida­dian roots with new al­bum

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