Charles brings calypso-tinged trumpet sound


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"Canada has a special place in my heart," Trinidad-born, New York-based trumpeter Etienne Charles says.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2014 (2901 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

“Canada has a special place in my heart,” Trinidad-born, New York-based trumpeter Etienne Charles says.

“The reason I’m a trumpet player is a trip to Toronto as a three-year-old,” the trumpeter, composer, band leader and teacher says in an interview from his home before he opens the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series with three concerts Sept. 20 and 21.

He visited an uncle when he was three and was pleased to be able to make a sound on his relative’s saxophone, but returned to Trinidad where he grew up playing steel-pan drums. Charles will play three concerts Sept. 20 and 21 to open the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series.

But at age 10, the Toronto uncle gave him a trumpet and a different musical life opened up, one that incorporated new sounds but maintained calypso as its root.

Charles’ music has been labelled pan-American, which he says refers to his influences of calypso, steel-pan drumming and music from all over the Caribbean, Congo, Brazil, Venezuela, Motown, New Orleans and some voodoo. “All of those different colours,” as he describes them.

Charles is not a fan of labels, but will accept his music is jazz.

“A label is something people use to categorize music for sale,” he says. “For all purposes, jazz is expressive music with improvisation, interaction, blues, syncopation — so my music is jazz, plus all the other influences. I could just as easily call it Trinidadian improvisation.”

Charles, who holds a master’s of music degree from Juilliard and teaches at Michigan State University, has four recordings, all on his own Culture Shock label. The latest, 2013’s Creole Soul, will be featured in his concerts here along with older tunes, he says, adding “We don’t set programs without getting a sense of our audience. It would be like setting the weather.”

Creole Soul incorporates a variety of rhythms — reggae, rock and calypso — among its six originals and four covers, including Bob Marley’s Turn Your Lights Down Low and Thelonious Monk’s Green Chimneys.

Charles says his early influences were his father, a DJ who led a steel-pan ensemble, and his music teachers. The music at home was “whatever records were playing on the radio.”

“We were kind of off the grid — not much jazz in record stores (and) live jazz maybe once a year.”

It wasn’t until he went to Florida State University to study that he got into jazz, he says. Then his list of jazz trumpet influences started to grow: Lee Morgan (“The one that put the lasso around my neck.”), Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry (Sweets) Edison, Thad Jones, Kenny Dorham, Woody Shaw.

Charles is looking forward to catching up with University of Manitoba jazz faculty staff and friends of his: director and bassist Steve Kirby; trumpeter Derrick Gardner and drummer Quincy Davis.

The Etienne Charles Sextet performs at the Berney Theatre Saturday, Sept. 20, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $38, are available by calling 204-477-7534.


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The iconic 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem is being recreated in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 13, as a fundraiser for Dig! magazine and a way to celebrate jazz musicians and fans.

Art Kane photographed 57 top jazz musicians of the time outside a brownstone in Harlem for Esquire. It became a classic and spawned a film documentary.

U of M jazz studies director Steve Kirby is expecting at least 60 people to turn out at 1:30 p.m. at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks to be captured in A Great Day in Winnipeg. The photo will be shot at 3 p.m. by Lindsey Bond, a local photographer whose interest in jazz includes her guitarist husband Keith Price.

A limited number of autographed prints will be auctioned off at the Dig! rent party, Nov. 19 at the Park Theatre, to help cover publishing costs for the bi-monthly magazine, which includes jazz listings and features on local and visiting musicians.

Kirby says he has wanted to do the photo shoot since he arrived here over a decade ago.

All jazz musicians — pro or amateur — and fans are welcome to take part. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page:


Updated on Monday, September 8, 2014 8:44 AM CDT: replaces missing paragraph

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