Jazz in Barbados


January 18, 2012

A few sunny mornings ago, I drove 30 minutes to the east coast listening to classic calypso tunes on my favorite radio station (Q FM), bought a bottle of water, and ran a few kilometers along this empty beach:.

Then I drove past this rock:

And up a long hill and down a steep one-lane path to Naniki for lunch:

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the view:

The second thing was the groovy American jazz on the sound system, just the right volume. Very few bars and restaurants in Barbados play jazz in the background. Four places offer live jazz a few times a week. Naniki is one of them. The owner, Tom Hinds, introduced himself and gave me the good news that he has live jazz most Sunday afternoons. “Last Sunday was really special. A great trumpet player.”

The buildings are duplex cottages, $US 75 per night and up. The horizon is the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side: Senegal. 

Naniki was quiet. I selected a table two tables away from a British couple. After I ordered, a group of four sat down at a table two away from them on the other side. Mr. Hinds stopped by to tell me more about the music schedule, and he surprised me: “Last Sunday was the best. The trumpet player was Marcus Belgrave.”

Amazing. One of the world’s best trumpet players, a legend from Detroit, where he still lives and plays and teaches when he’s not traveling. He played with Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, all the Motown stars, Tony Bennet, and Aretha Franklin. He came to Barbados, and he played here?

Mr. Hinds said: “That’s Marcus Belgrave over there.”

“Where?”

“The fella in the hat.”

“That’s Marcus Belgrave?”

“Definitely.”

And he invited me over to meet the people at the end of the deck: Marcus Belgrave, his wife Joan (an excellent singer), Mr. Belgrave’s Barbadian cousin, and a British woman. The Belgraves are also refugees from winter. They’re thinking about settling in Barbados for a good part of the year. His father was from here, one of the thousands of Barbadians who moved to Panamá a century ago to build the canal. He was one of the lucky survivors, and after the canal opened in 1914, he moved to the US. This week, the Belgraves spent many hours tracing the family history in the Barbados Archives.

I said somebody should create a major exhibit (plus an e-book, and a fascinating web site, and a television series, and a documentary film, but I didn’t mention all that) about the Barbadians who suffered in Panamá to construct one of the most important projects in world history. We all agreed that it’s a good idea, and Mr. Hinds said: “Mr. Watson at the Barbados Musuem is working on a similar idea, so you should talk with him if you think you can help in any way at all.”

Joan said that Marcus was planning to play with the Royal Barbados Police Force Band later that afternoon, at Hastings Rocks, which is directly across the street from my bedroom balcony. Eventually, I excused myself and left them in peace from all my fan talk.

Lunch was grilled marlin, rice and peas, pickled bananas, and a salad. Mr. Hinds showed me the CD covers of the music he was playing today, so far: Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson’s Canadian Suite, and Grover Washington. A totally crisp complement to the easy breeze from Africa. He said: “Oscar Peterson sat right over there a few years before he died and just chatted all afternoon.” I told him about the Jazz Foundation of America. He knew about it, and he knows some musicians in New York who are involved in that work.

When I left, I mentioned the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp. The Belgraves knew all about the camp in New Orleans, because Marcus is a jazz educator in Detroit and elsewhere. In 2009, he received the Kresge Eminent Artist Prize ($50,000) for his lifetime achievements.

As I drove back toward the west coast and turned south, Joanne Sealey on Q FM was hosting her Saturday reggae hour and taking phone calls from New York and Vancouver After I stopped at the supermarket, the new Q FM theme was classic R&B: The Best of Your Love, The Temptations.

At exactly 4:00, the Barbados Royal Police Force Band (founded in 1889) greeted a few hundred Barbadians and tourists with a Sousa march in a historic gazebo overlooking the Caribbean:

They played movie-music medlies, a few Caribbean tunes, and a tribute to Michael Jackson.

The conductor announced Mr. Belgrave, who consulted with Joan and a senior police officer (my apartment is in the big building in the background):

Then he joined the band for some Latino and jazz numbers, and he played a few solos:

During lunch, Tom Hinds, told me that he learned to love jazz from his father, who collected American records. When I asked him about jazz in Barbados, he said: “Too many people here think that jazz is an elitist thing, only for the intelligentsia. They’re wrong. It’s exactly the opposite. Those people don’t know where jazz came from.”

Among many other places, it came from Senegal and Barbados and Panamá and Detroit.

- TOM RIEKE


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