I started playing saxophone in the 1960’s after a singing competition in school to win the favours of a schoolgirl went awry. My competitor sang first and either he or someone else had turned off the microphone. Worse, the damsel in distress in my quixotic mind was totally oblivious of my gallantry before but certainly not after my ridiculous disaster on stage.
I grew up listening to West Indian music and everything else of the radio and I actually thought Mr Benwood Dick was a real, decent gentleman! Thanks heavens I did not have a sister then.
I played relatively little saxophone at home with schoolmate Dr. Charlie Roberts but I recall walking home from his house one night with the music Why Was I Born played by Stanley Turrentine ringing in my ears.
In Jamaica I was fortunate to fall under the spell of the American trombonist and arranger, Melba Liston who was the first tutor of the Jazz class at the Jamaican school of music. The late Jamaican Cedric “Im” Brooks taught me the vital link between music and society as we played in diverse venues from the common yard to the uncommon prison.
It was also in Jamaica that the late Vincentian medical student, Ronnie Saunders introduced me to Weather Report and Return to Forever, two groups that told me music was indeed the language of heaven. Cushioned between them and Bob Marley and playing in Cedric “Im” Brooks and the Light of Saba, music became an indispensable part of my life, jostling with my medical career.
Coming back home in 1983, I always wanted to play the pan much more than the occasional touch I had on campus in Jamaica. The Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra afforded me that opportunity in the Golden Gates Steel Orchestra, the adult class of pan players taught by Stafford Joseph.
I consider myself a woodwind player with all the saxophones, flutes, English horn, clarinet and bass clarinet and bassoon fighting for space at home. But the pan reminds me of being transfixed by North Star Steelband as a little boy until the shrilling sound of my grandmother calling my name in a perfect fifth interval or an octave reminded me that I was on an errand.
The nexus between a single player and a symphony of musicians in a steelband brings about a unifying oneness that truly underscores the fact that music is the language of heaven. For a fleeting moment during a rehearsal or a performance, life touches you on your shoulder and bids you welcome.