Profiles of Caribbean Artistry
Happy to Read and Write
I met Francesca Campi of the Italian Music label CAM in 1996 and we decided
to produce an album entitled Cam’s Movie Soundtracks, Caribbean Style
featuring The Samaroo Jets Steel Orchestra. During our discussions she
asked me politely which instrument I played. "I cannot play an instrument, so I
play the musicians! When I learn to read and write (music), I will be happy."
was my sheepish reply.
Wright and be Happy (Click for CD details)
Five years later on May 29 2001, Ron Reid, Orville Wright, Shannon Dudley and
myself were engaged in post-dinner conversation at my home. Somewhere along the
line we drifted back to a duet performed by Ron and Orville two days earlier at
La Boucan Room of the Trinidad Hilton. They had received a standing ovation from
a group of 100-odd international musicologists who had been attending the
Joint Society for American Music / Centre for Black Music Research
"We should produce a Pan-jazz album of solos and duets featuring the steelpan
and piano," I put forward to them. "Mr. Reid and Mr Wright!" "…But we
will need a bassist to add body to the music" chimed Orville… "In that
case, let us ask ‘Happy’ (Williams)," declared Ron. The rest is history….
© 2003 Simeon L. Sandiford
Ron began his musical journey at the tender age of nine taking piano lessons
from Ms. Ovita Creese, who lived just doors away from his grandmother’s house in
Belmont, Trinidad. In his early teenage years, while continuing his piano
instruction with Ms. Marjorie Padmore, Ron developed an interest in pop music,
electric bass and acoustic guitar. He stopped his piano training and began to
teach himself to play the guitar. In the early seventies, the fervour of Black
Consciousness that spread throughout Trinidad and Tobago inspired many of the
country’s artists to cherish the indigenous musical forms. Ron became part of a
movement of young musicians in the Anglican Church, who adapted staid
traditional hymns to folk and calypso rhythms. After high school in 1973 he
joined a newly formed chorus, The New World Performers. His
association around that period, with the QRC Jazz Club led to friendships
and professional collaborations with Scofield Pilgrim, Wayne ‘Barney’ Bonaparte,
Angus Nunes and Clive Zanda.
In 1977 Ron left his job at the Trinidad Express to begin his professional
music career, playing bass at Lord Kitchener’s Revue. Shortly thereafter,
he became a studio session-player and sideman, recording and travelling with
some of Trinidad’s popular calypsonians including, Mighty Shadow, Mighty
Sparrow, Terror, Kitchener, Scrunter and arranger, Art De Coteau.
Ron had other desires to be a composer and an actor and in 1978 created music
for Trinidad Television’s first soap opera, Who The Cap Fits, produced by
the Banyan Television Workshop. Ron has since composed music for Banyan’s
productions of Morral, The Rig, (written by Derek Walcott), Gayelle,
Caribbean Eye and the BBC/Banyan production of The Dish Ran Away with The
Spoon. He has also had long associations with Andre’s Tanker’s Contraband,
Roy Cape’s All Stars and Clive Zanda’s Gayap Workshop. It was at
Zanda’s house that he met drummer Michael Tobas who introduced Ron to the
legendary Desperadoes captain, Rudolph Charles who gave Ron his first
pair of double-second steelpans.
In 1983 Ron led the Woodtrin Steel Orchestra to the championship of
the Schools’ Steelband Festival. He took the band to the International Youth
Festival in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1984. Later that year he directed the Phase
II Pan Groove at the Pan is Beautiful Festival and performed
with them at the 1985 Panorama competition. Ron left Trinidad to further
his studies in the US towards the end of 1985.
A graduate of Berklee College of Music and Tufts University, Ron is now an
Assistant Professor at Berklee, teaching arranging, ensemble and steelpan
performance. He maintains an active career as a performer, which has included
concerts with Randy Weston, Carmen Lundy and Chick Corea. He performed in the
American Repertory Theatre’s production of Walcott’s Steel and was
musical director for the Trinidad Theatre Workshop’s productions of Joker of
Seville and Dream on Monkey Mountain at Boston’s Huntington Theatre.
He is founder and musical director of the Pan-jazz sextet, Sunsteel. The
group, formed in 1987 performed throughout New England and Maine and conducted
numerous workshops on steelband and calypso music. The band’s first CD,
Calypsoldier was released in 2000. Ron
currently plays bass and double-second pans with David ‘Happy’ Williams’
J’ouvert. The ensemble was featured in a successful three-night run at the
Lincoln Centre in New York in October 2002.
Orville started his musical training at a very early age in Trinidad and
Tobago taking piano lessons in Arima. He spent most of his formative and
adolescent years there before moving to Tunapuna with his family. It was while
he lived in Tunapuna that his musical career began to take shape when he studied
under Olive Walke’s direction. Orville took the Royal School of Music exams
reaching Grade V111 in both practical and theory. While studying classical
music, Orville developed a flair for playing calypso music and thus began his
non-classical music track. During the ‘60s, Orville was involved in a number of
musical activities at home. When the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment Band was
looking for a pianist for their Dance Band, Ms. Walke recommended Orville. He
enlisted in 1963, and spent six years primarily as a pianist, playing various
percussion instruments during concerts.
While there, he broadened his musical scope and became a member of Ms.
Walke’s La Petite Musicale.
He sang tenor when the group performed classical compositions, and played
guitar, bass, and cuatro for the folk repertoire. While still in the Regiment
Band, Orville was the first to arrange calypsos for the marching/military band
to be played at the Independence Day Parade. He was one of several who
represented Trinidad and Tobago at Expo ’67 in Montreal, Canada where he
was the official bassist for the contingent. He substituted as calypsonian
whenever the primary artiste had a day off. The flexibility of the Regiment Band
afforded Orville the opportunity to further develop his skills when he arranged
a Panorama composition for T&TEC Power Stars in 1968. At the conclusion of his
service in the Regiment, he had a short stint-playing bass with a trio at La
Boucan Room of the Trinidad Hilton, accompanying vocalists who came from USA to
perform at the Supper Club.
Orville left Trinidad in 1970 to further his musical education at Berklee
College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied arranging and composition
and upon graduation in May 1974, began a teaching career that lasted until
August 2002. During that time he served for fifteen years as the Chair of the
Ensemble Department. During his tenure, Orville garnered a lot of admiration
from his peers in the Boston area. Before graduating, he was one of the piano
players/accompanists for Harry Belafonte’s US summer tour in 1973. He played
keyboards in pit orchestras of national touring companies, The Wiz,
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Cats.
He also arranged music for Public Broadcasting Series, Rebop—a
children’s programme—after he graduated from Berklee. Orville taught a steelband
class for a few years which resulted from a barter agreement with Modern
Sounds Steel Orchestra. He arranged for a number of US-based calypsonians
most notably, King Wellington, and led his own quintet for a number of years in
Boston. Orville led a team of faculty members who taught and performed at the
Polish Jazz Camp near Warsaw, Poland in 1990, 1991, and 1992. He also travelled
extensively teaching and playing in South Africa, Italy, Malaysia, Puerto Rico,
and record an album in Japan as a member of the Berklee All Stars.
From 1992 – 2002, Orville served as a consultant to Pan Trinbago, the parent
organization for the steelband fraternity in Trinidad and Tobago. During that
period, he reviewed and re-wrote all the criteria for steelband competitions.
These have been adapted for most steelband competitions in North America. He
served as Chief Adjudicator for Pan Is Beautiful in 1992 and for
Panorama 2001. In the interim, he was an adjudicator at Panorama
in Trinidad. In 2002, Orville was one of the adjudicators at the European
semi-finals of the World Steelband Music Festival in Sete, France.
Because of these activities, Orville has gained substantial international
respect with regard to evaluating arrangements at steelband competitions.
Orville was a musical analyst for Trinidad and Tobago Television at the finals
of the Panorama Competition in 2002 and 2003. By so doing he was able to
enlighten the general public about the many nuances contained in Panorama music.
David "Happy" Williams
David Williams' route to the top of the jazz world has been somewhat
unconventional. It has taken him from Trinidad to London to New York to
Washington, DC to Los Angeles and back to New York. But there is nothing
conventional about brilliance, and as a bassist, that is what David Williams
exemplifies. His sound is deep and resonant, his section playing seems
effortless, his solos are rhythmic and compelling, and his intonation is
David was born in Trinidad. The island's rich musical heritage was made
available to him in an invaluable way --- his father, John "Buddy" Williams, was
a highly-regarded bassist who led his own calypso band. David, meanwhile, went
from piano at age 5 to violin at 6 and wasn't fond of either instrument.
Although his father did not give him lessons, David watched closely and
experimented with the bass on his own. He was also intrigued by the steel pans,
and loved to play them. He started to play bass in earnest at age 12. When his
sister was awarded a scholarship to study piano in London, David joined her, and
studied bass at the London College of Music.
David came to New York for a visit in 1969, and happened upon a workshop run
by Beaver Harris and Grachan Moncour. When Jimmy Garrison didn't show, David sat
in. One night Ron Carter came by and instead of reclaiming the gig, brought in
his cello and encouraged David to keep playing. On a tip from Ron, David secured
the bass spot with Gap and Chuck Mangione, and after that followed another
Carter lead to Washington, D.C. and promptly became Roberta Flack's bass player.
The alliance lasted for two years, during which time David also worked with
Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones, and drove up to New York every week to study
with Ron Carter.
When he returned to New York, David was called to work in a number of
situations: The Voices of East Harlem, Donald Byrd & the Blackbyrds (with whom
David received his first gold record), a Brazilian gig at the Tin Palace led by
Charlie Rouse. During this time he met Cedar Walton and his bassist Sam Jones;
David ‘subbed’ for Sam once or twice. George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Billy Taylor
and Junior Cook were among the musicians who hired David; he also played
regularly with Ornette Coleman before signing on with Elvin Jones for a two-year
In 1976, David moved to LA and got caught up in the studio whirlwind,
appearing on about 20 AVI releases with disco, funk, fusion and pop groups. He
played mostly Fender bass with artists including Herb Alpert, Hugh Masekela,
David Benoit, Jermaine Jackson, and Liberace. The disco hit Le Spank
garnered him another gold record during this period. Soul is Free, his
first album as a leader, was released on AVI in 1979; one of David's
compositions from it was used in the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. In
1982, after two years of work with Art Pepper, David returned to New York.
Shortly afterwards, Sam Jones died, and David inherited a legendary spot. As
a member of the Cedar Walton Trio (along with Billy Higgins) and Eastern
Rebellion, wherein saxophonist Vincent Herring fronts the trio, David has found
his first-call tour of duty. This is not to suggest that he has been unavailable
to others: he's worked with Jackie McLean, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Stan
Getz, Kenny Barron, Monty Alexander, Leon Thomas, Frank Morgan, Hank Jones,
Charles McPherson, Larry Willis, George Cables, Abdullah Ibrahim, David
"Fathead" Newman, Sonny Fortune, Louis Hayes, Clifford Jordan, Abbey Lincoln,
Ernestine Anderson, and Kathleen Battle. Along with Cedar Walton, many of these
long-lived associations --- McLean, Barron, Willis, Fortune, to name a few ---
David was the leader on Upfront, which he recorded with Walton and
Higgins on the Timeless label in 1987. He has made numerous TV appearances:
The Today Show, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Soul Train and Merv
Griffin among them. His travels have taken him across most of the world. His
discography includes approximately two hundred albums. David Williams'
prodigious talent is amplified by the fact that he never stops listening to what
his band mates are doing, and he responds unselfishly. He is inarguably
one of the finest and most sought-after bassists in jazz today.
In other ways, things have come full circle, so to speak, for David Williams.
Over the past four years, he has explored and developed the musical legacy
bequeathed him by his father, John Buddy Williams. In 2000, moved by the spirit
of Calypso, he threw his hat into the competitive ring of composers writing
especially for Trinidad’s steelbands at Carnival time, ending up high among the
twelve finalists. His composition,
Happy’s Story, the narrative tale of his own childhood and relationship
to the novel instrument called Pan, caused quite a stir on the island,
and was billed locally as a sort of "jazzman’s homecoming". This was followed by
another hit calypso CD in 2001, Ping Pong Obsession.
In 2002, David established a firm reputation in this arena by writing and
performing a rhythmic ‘jam’ called The Prize, which took him to fourth
place in a field of some sixty-odd composers. Several steelbands played diverse
arrangements of his music.
David Williams The Jazzman and David "Happy" Williams, Calypso
Writer/Singer/Performer, are one and the same, a musician fortunate enough to be
able to explore the fullness of his art, from many sides- the inherited, the
discovered and rediscovered. Listen, as he continues to find new ways to merge
them all. John Buddy would be proud.