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Etienne Charles’ “Creole Soul”

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The following is a guest post from Avery Boddie, an intern in the Music Division’s Concert Office. He holds a master’s degree in trumpet performance from the University of Maryland and is pursuing a master’s in library science this fall.

Photo courtesy of Etienne Charles
Photo courtesy of Etienne Charles

Next Friday, May 29th, the Library of Congress closes its 2014-15 concert season with jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles. As an African-American trumpet player from Memphis, also known as the “Home of the Blues,” I grew up listening to records by Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, and many other great jazz trumpeters. When I realized that Etienne Charles is performing at the Library of Congress in a few weeks, I began checking out some of his previous recordings and was extremely excited at what I heard. I took the opportunity to reach out and asked Charles a few questions leading up to his concert on May 29th. Here’s a look at our conversation:

AB: Etienne, could you describe some of your early musical background and influences in Trinidad and how you first got started on trumpet?

EC: Growing up in Trinidad, I was exposed to steel band music, calypso, shango drumming and the popular American and British songs that came through on the radio and record player.

AB: How has your Caribbean heritage influenced your work, specifically with your fourth album Creole Soul?

EC: My Caribbean heritage has a big influence on me as a person and as a result, on my art. With Creole Soul, I was dealing with folk influences from Haitian vodou, Martinican belair, rocksteady reggae, calypso, jazz and soul. Not only was I incorporating the root rhythms to inform my compositions, I was also using the improvisatory call and response rhetoric found in the African diaspora to create templates for composition and our interaction as a band.

AB: In addition to winning numerous accolades and awards, such as the top prize for the Jazz Division of the National Trumpet Competition in 2006, you managed to release your debut album Culture Shock while you were still in school. With your successes, what are some things that you did in school that helped propel your career and what would say to struggling young artists in school to further advance their own careers and to maneuver an increasingly difficult freelance scene?

EC: We recorded Culture Shock while I was in my senior year at Florida State University. It was a suggestion of my teacher and mentor Marcus Roberts who at the time was teaching me through an independent study on composition. Having that recording, with original compositions and arrangements helped for me to have a starting point as a recording artist.

I would advise students to develop their skills as much as possible in college as well as to see what resources are available to you to compose and record. I also strongly encourage my students to get out and play as much as possible. Seek out the elders who can give great advice about the art form as well as the industry.

AB: How would you describe the current jazz scene in New York and what excites you now about the jazz scene?

EC: New York is the mecca of jazz. There’s no place like it. I love the jazz scene in NYC because the players are on the highest level, pushing each other to grow. It’s also inspiring to see the legends of this music when they play or are just out and about hanging. The jazz scene continues to grow and experiment with different sounds, grooves and instrument groupings.

AB: From following your Instagram page (@etiennejazz), you seem to be a big fan of food, in particular Caribbean dishes. Does this have to do with your heritage and what are some of the similarities in this food and the Creole music you grew up with?

EC: Caribbean food is a big part of my upbringing. There are many similarities between food and music. Caribbean food has many influences; Africa, Asia, South America and Europe are some. It’s the same with Caribbean music.

AB: For all the “trumpet jocks” out there wondering, could you briefly describe the equipment you use and how it shapes or influences your sound?

EC: I play on a ‘Frankenhorn’. It’s a Buescher Aristocrat with a Josh Landress bell and lead pipe. Bach 3c mouthpiece with a Warburton 6 backbore.

AB: Are there any other artists or forms of music, other than jazz that you enjoy?

EC: Soooooo many. Bach, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, Mighty Spoiler, and many more.

AB: You’ve performed with some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Maria Schneider, the Count Basie Orchestra, Benny Golson, and countless others. Do you have an artist whom you particularly enjoy performing with, or a memory from any of these that stands out to you?

EC: There are so many artists that I enjoy playing with. All of the names above gave me inspiring and humbling experiences to grow from. I also really enjoy performing with Marcus Miller, René Marie, Jacques Schwarz-Bart and the MSU [Michigan State University] Professors of Jazz. I also enjoy performing with the musicians in my group!

AB: With the little time you have from your teaching at Michigan State University, recording, touring, and playing; what are your non-musical hobbies and what do you do to relax?

EC: Sleep!! I also cook, exercise, read and watch Netflix.

AB: Lastly, is there anything else that you’d like the audience to know about you or your music prior to your appearance on May 29th at the Library of Congress?

EC: We’re looking forward to grooving for you guys. Such a historical venue. We’re honored to come play!


Courtesy of Etienne Charles
Courtesy of Etienne Charles

Event Listing
Friday, May 29, 2015 – 8:00pm (Coolidge Auditorium)

A native of Trinidad, trumpeter Etienne Charles is a musician who defies limitations and seeks out ethnic connections in his music. His Creole Soul project, which received international claim on the iTunes, Jazzweek and Billboard jazz charts, explores the musical connections between Afro-Caribbean, Creole, New Orleans and American traditions. Charles studied with the great Marcus Roberts, and has performed or recorded as a sideman with legends like Monty Alexander, Roberta Flack, Wynton Marsalis, Maria Schneider, and the Count Basie Orchestra. This special concert will highlight the influence of Creole and jazz in the music of George Gershwin. Free, tickets required. If advance tickets are sold out, RUSH tickets will be available at the door, beginning at 6:00pm.

Preview Video
Program Booklet

Part of National Chamber Music Month

Presented in association with the Library of Congress Hispanic Cultural Society and the Daniel A.P. Murray African American Culture Association

A limited number of rush passes are still available for this performance, beginning 2 hours before the start of the concert. Seats are not necessarily guaranteed but walk-ups are highly encouraged for this event. Due to no-shows and returned tickets, some seats are ALWAYS available for sold out performances at curtain. RUSH passes are offered on a space-available basis. We hope to see you on May 29th at 8pm for this event!


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