Steelpan Alive with Andy Narell
Monday, 12 December 2011 15:04

In 1999 Andy Narell became the first non-national to compose music specifically for the National Panorama Championships when he composed, "Coffee Street" for the Skiffle Bunch Steel Orchestra. Interestingly Narell was considered a pan virtuoso even before he set foot on this island back in the 1970s when he began to visit here every Carnival to play with as many as four steelbands for Panorama.Andy Narrell

Narell was introduced to the pan when his father, a social worker in Queens, New York invited Ellie Mannette to introduce the pan to the children in an effort to keep them off the streets. Narell would come to see his father at work participating in the music classes and excelling on the pan.

After the family moved to California, Narell continued playing the pan and went on to pursue music studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He also picked up the piano and played with the University of California Jazz Ensembles.

Narell graduated from university in 1973 and by 1979 had recorded his first album, Hidden Treasure. During the 1980's Narell worked on a project titled Bebop & Beyond that recorded tribute albums to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. To date Narell has at least 14 solo album collections and he has worked on a number of major projects as well.

The most recent Narell release is a two-DVD collection titled Andy Narell Alive, which features five films each just over one hour in length. This was produced by Narell over a four-year period with a large portion of it being filmed in France where he now resides most of the time. Throughout the collection there are appearances by David Rudder, Peter Minshall, Ray Holman and Paquito D'Rivera.

One of the films was made here in Trinidad at Queen's Hall during Narell's performance alongside the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra at the Queen's Royal College Foundation Steelpan Jazz Festival a couple years ago.

The first thing that strikes you about the collection even before you slip the disc into the DVD player is the packaging, which features the art of David Boothman, one of Trinbago's celebrated artists and jazz musicians with whom Narell has performed.

Alive is being distributed by Sanch Electronix, St Joseph and is presently available at the Piarco International Airport and the Trinidad All Stars panyard on Duke Street, Port of Spain. It is also going to be on sale at music stores across the two islands within days. In the artiste's statement on the DVD Narell says:

"As I look back on the four years of work that went into making these films and the years of prior work that went into composing the music featured here, I want to thank a number of people who made it possible. Francois Fevre first approached me in 2007 with the idea of making a documentary about my work and when I met with him and Laurent Lichtenstein, who would make the film, I insisted that they bring a crew to Trinidad to film the project I was doing with Trinidad All Stars, get a sense of the place that gave birth to the pan and learn the story at its source.

"The financial backing for the film wasn't in place yet, but they went ahead with it and most of Andy and the Jumbies was shot in two visits to Trinidad, one documenting the project with Trinidad All Stars and a subsequent trip at Carnival time. My sincerest thanks to Francois for believing that I was worth making a film about and to Laurent for making me believe it too.

Andy Narell and Trinidad All Stars documents the concert we gave at Queen's Hall, Port of Spain as part of the 2007 Trinidad and Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival. I can't say enough about the dedication and work ethic of Trinidad All Stars, a truly world class orchestra. Over the course of six months they put in more than 100 rehearsals to learn the music and prepare for the concert and they taught me a lot about togetherness and unity of purpose.

Calypso Fever and Live at the Koln Philharmonic—I've worked with the WDR Big Band several times since the late 90s thanks to Vince Mendoza, one of the truly great orchestral and big band composer/arrangers working today. When Lucas Schmi, the director of the band proposed the idea of merging a steelband with the big band, one of my dreams came true. I can't say enough thanks to Michael Abene for bringing his composer's sensibility and ideas to the project and to Lucas Schmid for the vision and follow-through to make it happen.

"Four years in the making, these five films document the pioneering musical work of Andy Narell and a host of collaborators, featuring the WDR Big Band, Relator and Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra with guest appearances by David Rudder, Peter Minshall, Ray Holman, Paquito D'Rivera and many others. From the panyards of Trinidad to the Koln Philharmonic in Germany to the streets of New York City, these films follow Narell's extraordinary journey as a musician and composer exploring the possibilities of the steel pan."

Source: Trinidad Express