UNIVERSITY OF CALYPSO
Calypso has been with us for almost 100 years—and during that time the music behind the words has gone through a series of revolutionary reinventions. Backup for the earliest recorded minor-key calypsos was reminiscent of South American dance bands. During the 1930s the music came to sound more like major-key American swing music. And in the 1940s and '50s, thanks to bands like the one led by John "Buddy" Williams, many of the best calypsonians were backed by small, hip bebop combos.
It's no accident that many people consider the 1950s and '60s (with its legendary singer-songwriters like Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow, Mighty Spoiler, Mighty Terror, Lord Melody) to be calypso's Golden Age. Much like what was happening in jazz and popular music in the U.S., calypso was going through a period of radical change. We owe a lot of that to the calypso giant known as Lord Kitchener (real name Aldwyn Roberts; now respectfully nicknamed the Grandmaster). Kitchener, who was born in 1922 and passed away in 2000, was arguably the greatest songwriter in the history of calypso. Largely responsible for calypso's evolution into a melodically and harmonically sophisticated music, he was also a fabulous lyricist, and a great commentator and humorist on a wide array of subjects. However, unlike most calypsonians, who are primarily "lyric men," Kitch, who played bass and guitar, wrote gorgeous music to go along with his words. Half this album is drawn from his songbook, and with good reason: Kitch's forays into jazz are the inspiration for this project.
Kitchener emigrated from Trinidad to London in 1948, where he discovered jazz—and wrote a very hip composition called "Bebop Calypso" praising Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Kitchener stayed in London throughout the '50s, playing with jazz musicians and making numerous recordings that revolutionized calypso music. Along with cats like Rupert Nurse (piano, saxophone, bass, arrangements), Fitzroy Coleman (guitar), and Russ Henderson (piano, pan) Kitchener created a new jazz-influenced big band sound that suited calypso perfectly—and when he returned to Trinidad, 17 years later, it was as a hugely successful entertainer with scores of hit records to his credit. Of course, calypso kept changing. Over the last 50 years musical influences have included rock 'n' roll, soul, funk, rock, East-Indian "chutney," reggae dancehall, and europop. And it's been over 50 years since a calypsonian has gone into the studio with a serious jazz band. Way too long! So Andy Narell and Relator have put together a group of world-class Latin-jazz cats who can swing the calypso and blow le jazz hot—and bring new life to this music. The repertoire for this CD is drawn from Relator's originals, and classics from the Golden Age of calypso.
Relator (real name Willard Harris) is one of Trinidad's finest calypsonians. He won the Calypso Monarch competition in 1980, an honor to which every calypsonian aspires, and is still considered one of the masters of the art form today. Born in 1948, his best-loved compositions include "Gavaskar" and "Food Prices" (both performed on this set) along with "Radio Stations" and scores of others. Relator is known for his amazing rhymes, and the dazzling phrasing he employs to sing his way through even the trickiest lyrics. He is also one of Trinidad's finest interpreters of classic calypsos, especially those of Lord Kitchener. Andy and Relator have been playing together for years, and decided to embark on the University of Calypso project in the spirit of the calypso pioneers of the 1950s. The collaboration was a real treat for both musicians. Andy assembled a group of Latin jazz all stars in New York, and invited maestro Paquito D'Rivera to join the ensemble. The resulting fete is documented on this CD.