Pan and Pan Jazz


2010 Archive
2009 Archive
2008 Archive
2007 Archive
2006 Archive
2004 Archive
2003 Archive
2001 Archive
2000 Archive
1999 Archive
1999 Magazine
Guyana United

The President's Message ] Carnival History Notebook ] Flavours of a People ] Bedroom Banking ] Sharing the Culture ] [ Pan and Pan Jazz ] A Remembrance ]


By Simeon L. Sandiford

It is not clear who coined the term Pan-jazz, but it is used to describe either a solo Pannist or a small ensemble of Pannists; or a solo Pannist with a group of conventional musicians, usually a pianist, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, a saxophonist or some combination thereof, playing conventional jazz or so-called crossover music. The main emphasis is placed on the Pannist as the lead soloist. This music is characterised by spontaneous improvisation.

Pan-jazz is traceable to the late 1950s in Trinidad when the late Scofield Pilgrim, Ray Holman, Earl Rodney, Emmanuel 'Cobo Jack' Riley and others began experimenting with playing calypso and their own compositions in a jazz styling. At the same time, they were trying to extend the range of the soprano pan so that it could be used as a viable substitute for the piano.

Partly out of the experimentation of such people, the Panorama competition was started in 1963. It is interesting to note that Panorama compositions (which are essentially variations on a theme played in calypso tempo) are also full of improvisations called runs. However, these are not spontaneous, but are taught aurally to steelband musicians by the arranger. This, however, is Pan Jazz and its beginnings. But Pan Jazz is the child of Pan; what are its origins?

The Steel Pan sprang from the hunger, pain and defiant joy of the ex slaves of Trinidad and Tobago, people of the rough streets and ghettos. Here was a people's burning need for self-expression and identification. A need so strong that it fashioned something new to proclaim itself. The majority of today’s players still learn by rote and play without any tangible financial reward. Pride of performance is everything to them and this is what empowers their music. To hear steelband music is to hear the soul of Trinidad and Tobago.

From crude beginnings the Steel Pan has evolved to acquire a breathtaking sophistication. The Steel Pan has demonstrated the capacity not only to ¬extend the range of orchestral music but also to replicate the sounds of many other instruments. Because of this gift of mimicry, entire symphonies have been faithfully rendered solely by Steelbands. Yet no other instrument possesses the bell like echoing, the silver purity, of the Steel Pan. Stephen Brookes, writing in Insight of December 6, 1988, says,

"Playing classical music on the pan … has shown just how broad and colorful the steel band’s musical palette really is. From delicate, shimmering passages that suggest the ethereal sound of a glass harmonica to detailed counterpoint and intricate passagework and thundering, unstoppable percussive crescendos, the sound of a full-size steel orchestra is, in a word, extraordinary. It has an uncanny ability to evoke the sound of trumpets, woodwinds, even strings. Ringing with complex harmonics, the sound is almost hypnotic.”

The range of different tones emanating from steel orchestras has elicited enquiries about the presence of synthesizers from those hearing pan for the first time. So what is Steel Pan? What are its features?

The Steel Pan is the only new family of acoustic instruments to have been invented in the last 100 years. It is the National Music Instrument of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It was invented there circa 1940. The Steel Pan is a definite pitch, acoustic, and percussion instrument. It consists of a circular steel playing surface stretched to a concave shape, attached to a hollow, metallic, cylindrical resonator called a 'skirt". The playing surface Is divided into an optimum number of convex sections called “notes", each of which is acoustically isolated and tuned to a definite pitch. The instrument is usually played with a pair of hand held rubber tipped, non sonorous mallets called “sticks”. Persons skilled in the art of playing the Steel Pan are called 'Pannists’

The ensemble or orchestra, which usually consists of a family of Steel Pans encompassing a range of approximately six chromatic octaves, is known as a steelband or steel orchestra. It is often supported by a rhythm section consisting of a variety of other indefinite pitch percussion instruments which, when played in harmony, regulate the tempo of the music. The most highly regarded features of Steel Pan playing of the whole orchestra are demonstrated through the extended arrangements of Calypsoes called 'Panorama Music".

Panorama is a unique steelband competition, totally indigenous to the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. It was inaugurated during the Carnival Season of 1963 and is customarily held during Carnival. As many as 100 steel orchestras, each consisting of between 50 and 100 players, spend four to six weeks of long, irregular hours learning an arrangement of a calypso. Each band is allowed a maximum of ten minutes to interpret and extend a melody that is originally about 11/2 minutes long. The arrangements when fully exploited are varied, Interesting and challenging. The structure of a typical arrangement includes an introduction, statement of the melody, harmonic and melodic developments, changes of key, changes of rhythm, modulations, improvisations and a finale. The headiest victory for a Pannist is to be part of a team that 'wins a Panorama ' and this is pursued in a manner that may best be described as obsessive.

The music for each orchestra is laid down aurally by a respected arranger in such a way as to give endless delight to the audience while, of course, maintaining the vigorous tempo that is the very spirit of Carnival. The countrywide competition itself takes place in various venues over a period of about two weeks, the country being divided into zones. The grand finals take place at the Oueen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on Carnival Saturday night before a highly-charged audience of between 35,000 and 50,000 patrons. The massive outdoor stage measures 274 feet by 48 feet and each orchestra occupies up to 90 per cent of it.

Over the years, Panorama competitions have become an integral part of some of the other hundred and fifty odd Carnival celebrations throughout the world. Some of the more notable ones are in Grenada and Antigua, Notting Hill in England, Caribana in Canada, Labor Day in Brooklyn and Boston Carnival.

In the recent past, however, while Panorama continues to be the foremost Pan playing event, the potential of Pan has steadily developed. A “Pan in Concert” tradition is evolving rapidly and in prestigious and far flung places from its indigenous roots: Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. and Symphony Hall, Boston; and in countries like Japan and Morocco. And it is in this concert setting that the many facets of Pan are displayed and its best players exhibit their extraordinary artistry.

Clive Zanda, Rudy Smith, Robbie Greenidge, Andy Narell, and Annise Hadeed and others have been responsible for maintaining the Pan Jazz tradition initiated by their earlier colleagues. Modern Pan-jazz in Trinidad and Tobago consists of a fusion of the rhythms and characteristic styles of Calypso, Shango and East Indian music with traditional jazz rhythms. Len “Boogsie” Sharpe and Ken “Professor” Philmore too, play these fused rhythms at home but also present the newer “smooth jazz” rhythms. The versatility of the pan instrument allows as varied musicians as these, and Pan groups such as Panazz, to respond to eclectic tastes for calypso, Broadway melodies, big band swing, reggae and symphony.

Listen to Pan, calypso or jazz, marvel at the artistry and feel the soul of a joyful people.

Ronald H. Lammy contributed to this 1999 edition of an earlier writing first published by Mr. Sandiford in 1997


Home ] 2010 Archive ] 2009 Archive ] 2008 Archive ] 2007 Archive ] 2006 Archive ] 2004 Archive ] 2003 Archive ] 2001 Archive ] 2000 Archive ] 1999 Archive ] 1999 Magazine ] Guyana United ]
[ eCaroh Caribbean Emporium ] [ eCatalog for secure CD shopping ]

eCaroh Caribbean Emporium

eCaroh Caribbean Emporium