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Published on September 20th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann

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Etienne Charles Adds Calypso Flavor to the JAC’s Latin Night

The musically dexterous Charleston Jazz Orchestra knows how to swing, groove, and experiment with classic Latin rhythms. The 20-piece ensemble has worked Latin jazz and folk styles into their performances during each of the Jazz Artists of Charleston’s concert seasons. Latin flavor is part of their tradition.

This weekend, for their fourth annual Latin Night event at the Charleston Music Hall, CJO conductor and trumpeter Charlton Singleton will welcome acclaimed horn player, arranger, and composer Etienne Charles for a different kind of Latin Night — one that veers into the outer edges of Caribbean music.

“Things will definitely lean closer to the English-speaking side of the Caribbean,” says Charles, a native of Trinidad. “You know, for some reason, when you hear a lot about Latin music, you actually don’t hear about the music of the English Caribbean. It’s mostly bossa novas, sambas … Brazilian, Mexican, and Cuban styles. We’re actually going to do a lot more calypso and reggae and get into the original beats from Trinidad, things that I know instinctively. Some of it is a little bit slower, but it still bounces.”

Set for Sat. Sept. 22, Latin Night marks Charles’ third appearance in Charleston as a especial guest of the JAC. He previously joined musicians from the JAC roster at the Footlight Players Theatre in 2008 and the Charleston Ballet Theatre in 2010.

Charles regards Saturday’s double-concert as something of a homecoming. “Man, it’s always good to play with those guys from the JAC,” he says. “There are great spirits and great musicians. It’s such a great combination. The CJO is a great ensemble, and I’ve written these pieces for the show, but when we play them together, I know they’ll help take the music somewhere else — just from the way we play it. When the human element gets into it, then it really comes to life.”

Charles has enjoyed a busy year with travel and performance so far. Last winter, he recorded pianist Eric Reed on Reed’s new studio album The Baddest Monk (released in May on High Note). Charles and his band opened for Monty Alexander at DC Jazz Festival in June. He worked as the musical director for this year’s edition of Panjazz: Music, the Original Social Media at the Lincoln Center in New York. He also toured the West Coast and performed random shows around the U.S. over the summer.

Based in New York, he constantly collaborates with various artists and ensembles at festivals and concerts.

“I enjoy doing the jazz festivals,” Charles says. “It’s a flourish each year, going from New York to the West Coast and back. But I like being based in New York City these days. I’m from Trinidad, and that’s home. That’s my turf. I have so many places that are like home for me these days. Here in New York, I get to be a homebody, doing laundry and errands, but being on the road is like home for me, too.”

Charles delves into his Trinidad/Caribbean roots on his latest studio album Kaiso (the title comes from an African word loosely defined as “proceed”). Kaiso is a dynamic and exotic gumbo of horn-propelled jazz and jazz-tinged calypso and Latin explorations.

“I definitely tried to highlight the beauty of the melodies of calypso,” Charles says of the new album. “There are bits of African and swing and be-bop on Kaiso. There are love songs, dance tunes, songs about carnivale, and songs about life, but I tried to capture the texture and melody of calypso on all of it. I love shining the light on calypso.

Like many American jazz musicians, Charles is constantly fascinated and inspired by the art, language, cuisine, and mannerisms that overlap in vintage coastal cities not far from the Caribbean, from New Orleans to the old colonial communities of the Carolinas.

“There are very many cultural similarities between the port towns of the Western Hemisphere,” Charles says. “I’ve been to Kingston, Havana, Port-au-Prince, New Orleans … there’s something about these big port towns that’s different from other cities. There’s a different color and a different flavor.”

Charles and the Charleston Jazz Orchestra will play two individual 90-minute concerts at the Charleston Music Hall (37 John St.) on Sat. Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are available for $40 and $30 (adults), $35 and $25 (seniors and students). Visit etiennecharles.com and jazzartistsofcharleston.org for more.


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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.



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